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European Commission - Press release

Environment: Commission urges France and Greece to strengthen measures to combat water pollution by nitrates

Brussels, 27 October – The European Commission is urging France and Greece to take stronger measures to combat water pollution caused by nitrates. In France, the current legal framework and the nitrates action plans for zones vulnerable to nitrate pollution do not effectively guarantee that this pollution is addressed effectively, as required by EU law. Greece too has a number of failings in this area. In spite of the Directive being in force since 1991, both Member States have still not fully implemented it. The Member States have yet to designate all the zones which are vulnerable to nitrates pollution and adopt measures to effectively combat nitrates pollution in these zones. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, a reasoned opinion will be sent to France on both the designation and insufficient action grounds and a reasoned opinion on the action programme will be sent to Greece. The Member States have two months to comply. Failing this, the Commission may decide to refer their cases to the European Court of Justice.

The Nitrates Directive aims to protect water quality across Europe by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters and by promoting the use of good farming practices. Member States have to adopt measures to reduce and prevent pollution by nitrates in zones that are vulnerable to nitrate pollution. These shall include closed periods when the manure and chemical fertilizers cannot be spread, a capacity for storing manure when it cannot be spread, and limitations on fertilizer application.

In France, the existing legislation and the action plans that have been adopted lack precision and have numerous shortcomings, including insufficient closed periods and insufficient limitations for manure and fertilizers application. France has agreed to amend its legislation, but slow progress and insufficient proposed changes have led the Commission to send a reasoned opinion. The Commission also considers that France has not yet designated all the zones which are actually vulnerable to pollution by nitrates, and so a number of areas are still lacking action plans.

An examination of Greek law revealed that seven of the Action Plans, adopted in Greece in 2001 and 2006, have shortcomings and are not being correctly implemented on the ground. Legal proceedings began last year, and while some progress has been made, the Commission is not satisfied with the pace of change, and a reasoned opinion is therefore being sent.


Directive 91/676/EEC concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources requires Member States to monitor their waters and identify those affected, or likely to be affected, by pollution. It requires Member States to designate as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones all known areas of land in their territories which drain into these waters and which contribute to pollution. They must also set up appropriate action programmes for these zones, aiming at preventing and reducing such pollution.

Excess levels of nitrates can damage freshwaters and the marine environment by promoting excessive growth of algae that chokes other life, a process known as eutrophication. Also, they make necessary very costly treatments for using such water for drinking purposes.

Further information:

For current statistics on infringements in general:

More information on the Nitrates Directive:

See also:

More information on the Water Framework Directive:


Contacts :

Joe Hennon (+32 2 295 35 93)

Monica Westeren (+32 2 299 18 30)

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