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Ireland to be referred to EU court over water directive

  • Ireland to be referred to EU court over water directive

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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.

The Commission decided to refer Ireland to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failing to correctly transpose the Water Framework Directive (Directive 2000/60/EC) into national law. The Directive establishes a framework for protecting inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater by preventing their further deterioration, preventing pollution as well as protecting and enhancing water dependent ecosystems and water resources. It requires that all inland and coastal waters reach at least good status by 2027 at the latest. To achieve this, Member States are to establish river basin management plans and programmes with measures. This is an important aspect of the European Green Deal's zero pollution ambition, aiming for water pollution to be reduced to levels no longer considered harmful to human health and natural ecosystems.

EU Member States were required to transpose the Water Framework Directive into national law by 22 December 2003. Ireland initially adopted legislation, but the Commission found it to be insufficient.

The Commission sent a letter of formal notice to Ireland in October 2007, followed by a reasoned opinion in November 2011. The Commission reassessed the case after Ireland adopted new amending legislation and also took into account the Court of Justice's caselaw interpreting some of the provisions of the Directive. The Commission sent an additional letter of formal notice to Ireland in January 2019, followed by an additional reasoned opinion in October 2020.

Despite some progress and the adoption of new legislation in June and December 2022, the Irish authorities have not yet fully addressed the grievances, over 20 years after the entry into force of this Directive. Ireland's transposing law still needs to provide for appropriate controls in the following areas: water abstraction, impoundment and activities causing hydro-morphological changes such as dams, weirs and other interferences in natural water flow.

The Commission considers that efforts by the Irish authorities have to date been unsatisfactory and insufficient and is therefore referring Ireland to the Court of Justice of the European Union.


The Water Framework Directive, which came into force in 2000, provides a framework for integrated water management in river basin districts across the European Union. It obliges Member States to protect and restore all bodies of ground water and surface water (rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal water) to achieve "good status" by 2027 at the latest.

Most recently, Ireland adopted a new Water Environment (Abstractions and Associated Impoundments) Act on 20 December 2022. This Act has not yet been notified to the Commission. It provides for a new regulatory framework to regulate water abstraction, the details of which will then need to be filled in with implementing regulations. It remains unclear how long it will take for full compliance to be achieved.

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