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EU urges Belgium to protect its waters from nitrate pollution

  • EU urges Belgium to protect its waters from nitrate pollution

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European Commission
The European Commission is the EU's executive arm. It takes decisions on the Union's political and strategic direction.
Schneider Electric
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In its monthly package of infringement decisions, the European Commission pursues legal action against Member States for failing to comply with their obligations under EU law. 

The Commission has sent a formal notice to Belgium over non-compliance with the nitrates directive. That directive aims to protect Europe's (surface and ground) water against pollution from agricultural sources by requiring the authorities to take measures aimed at avoiding such pollution. A first letter of formal notice was sent in February 2014. The Commission decided to broaden the discussion with Belgium since then and specifically, in view of the Flemish region's reports on monitoring of water quality indicating that maximum allowed quantities of animal manure have not been respected, at least since 2016 (when a derogation was granted under the Directive), until 2018.

The derogation granted to the Flemish region allowed it for quantities of nitrates above the normal limit per hectare if conditions were met. However, the official report indicates that quantities actually applied in many cases exceeded the maxima considerably. To date, there is no indication that these exceedances have been ended. Regarding the Walloon region, the current nitrates action programme in place (PGDA 3) does not contain all the measures required by the Directive.

Despite indications of improving ground water quality and adoption of new measures since the case was opened in 2013, the Commission considers that certain measures should be further strengthened and scientifically underpinned so as to ensure that water quality complies with the Directive (close periods, spreading manure on slopes, registration of quantity of fertilisers applied on the land, etc.).

The Commission expects its concerns to be taken into account in the upcoming revision of the PGDA 3. Belgium now has two months to reply to the arguments raised by the Commission. Otherwise, the Commission may decide to send a reasoned opinion.

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