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European Commission - Press release

Spain faces fines for not complying with judgment from 2011 over poor waste water collection and treatment

Brussels, 17 November 2016

Commission refers Spain back to the EU Court of Justice for delaying adequate measures in 17 urban agglomerations.

The European Commission is taking Spain back to the Court of Justice of the EU for its failure to fully and completely comply with the Court judgement of 2011. Spanish regional authorities must ensure that urban waste water is adequately collected and treated in 17 agglomerations across the country to prevent serious risks to human health and the environment.

The Court of Justice of the EU ruled on 14 April 2011 (Case C-343/10) that Spain violated EU law by not adequately collecting and treating the urban waste water discharged by 37 agglomerations (towns, cities, settlements).

Five years later, this matter remains unaddressed in 17 agglomerations (out of the 37 covered by the judgment) corresponding to 1,400,000 people. In addition, more than 15 years after the deadline of 31 December 2000 for the implementation of the applicable EU rules (Council Directive 91/271/EEC), the perspective for full compliance in all these agglomerations is still unclear. The lack of adequate collection and treatment of the waste water poses significant risks to human health, to inland waters and to the marine environment.

The Commission is asking the Court of Justice of the EU to impose a lump sum amounting to €46,522,999 by this date. The Commission is also proposing a daily fine of €171,217.20 if full compliance is not achieved by the date when the Court will issue its second ruling. The penalties proposed take into account the duration of the infringement, its gravity, and the size of the Member State. The final decision on the penalties rests with the Court of Justice of the EU.

The second referral to the Court is necessary to ensure compliance in these 17 remaining agglomerations, given the very slow progress so far.

Background

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive(Council Directive 91/271/EEC) requires that Member States ensure that agglomerations (towns, cities, settlements) properly collect and treat their urban waste water. Untreated waste water can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses and thus presents a risk to public health. It also contains nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which can damage freshwaters and the marine environment by promoting excessive growth of algae that chokes other life, a process known as eutrophication.

Under this Directive, towns and cities with a population equivalent of more than 15 000 inhabitants which discharge the urban waste water into receiving waters not considered to be "sensitive areas" were required to have systems for collecting and treating their waste water in place as of 1 January 2001. It follows that Member States must ensure that urban waste waters are adequately collected and treated before they are discharged into the environment.

17 agglomerations are concerned: Matalascañas, Alhaurín el Grande, Isla Cristina, Tarifa, Coín, Estepona-San Pedro de Alcántara and, respectively, Nerja and Barbate (Andalucía), Gijón Este (Asturias), Santiago de Compostela, Aguiño-Carreira-Ribeira and, respectively, Vigo (Galicia), Benicarló, Peñíscola and, respectively, Teulada-Moraira (Comunidad Valenciana), Noreste (Valle Guerra) and Valle de Güímar (Tenerife, Islas Canarias).

Other Member States - Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal - have already been subject to penalties in similar cases.

More information:

-    On the key decisions of the November infringements package, please refer to the fullMEMO/16/3644.

-    General information on infringements proceedings in the areas of Environment.

-    On the general infringements procedure, see MEMO/12/12(an info graph).

-    On the EU infringements procedure.

IP/16/3645

Press contacts:

General public inquiries: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 67 89 10 11 or by email


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