The European Commission has decided to refer Belgium to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failing to take sufficient action in the Walloon region on nitrate pollution as required under the Nitrates Directive (Council Directive 91/676/EEC). The directive aims to protect surface and ground water against pollution from agricultural sources. The European Green Deal, with its Zero Pollution ambition, calls for air, water and soil pollution to be reduced to levels no longer considered harmful to human health and natural ecosystems.
Under the Nitrates Directive, Member States are required to monitor their waters and identify those affected or likely to be affected by pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources. They are also required to set up appropriate action programmes to prevent and reduce such pollution.
The action programme applicable in the Walloon region (‘Programme de Gestion durable de l'azote en agriculture', version 3) dates back to 2014 and does not meet the requirements the Nitrates Directive sets for such action programmes. Whereas groundwater quality decreased in about 30% of groundwater monitoring points, the Belgian authorities have not revised this action programme to bring it into line with the requirements of the Nitrates Directive.
The Commission sent a letter of formal notice to Belgium in February 2014, an additional letter of formal notice in November 2019 and a reasoned opinion in July 2020. Despite some progress, the Belgian authorities have not fully addressed the grievances.
For these reasons, the Commission considers that efforts by the Belgian authorities have to date been unsatisfactory and insufficient and is referring Belgium to the Court of Justice of the European Union.