European sanction over Spain’s water pollution

EU passes judgement on Spain's water pollution

Flags of the EU and Spain. Credit: Casablanca Stock/

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has delivered a decisive ruling against Spain.

The verdict came on Thursday, March 14 after the European Commission’s (EC) appeal in December 2022 accused Spain of not adhering to EU directives aimed at controlling water pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources.

EU directive violations

The CJEU found Spain in breach of its duty to identify and manage areas vulnerable to nitrate contamination, specifically citing regions in the Balearic Islands, the Community of Madrid, and Valencia.

This decision supports, although partially, the EC’s lawsuit, which highlighted Spain’s failure to designate 82 areas across various communities in Castilla y Leon, Extremadura, Galicia, the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, Madrid and Valencia as nitrate-vulnerable zones.

Nonetheless, the European Court dismissed claims for the majority of these areas, suggesting the EC failed to prove significant agricultural contributions to the pollution levels.

Inadequate action and compliance

Further scrutiny revealed Spain’s shortfall in implementing essential measures required by European guidelines within their action programs.

Notably, these programs lacked sufficient strategies for applying fertilizers on inclined terrains. Despite presenting some counter-studies and claimed measures after the compliance deadline set in 2015, Spain’s efforts were deemed insufficient by the Court.

The CJEU emphasised that merely adopting additional measures was not enough, these actions must effectively reduce and prevent future nitrate pollution to meet EU objectives.

The way forward

This judgment underlines the imperative for Member States to not only enforce existing regulations but also ensure these measures are potent enough to mitigate water pollution effectively.

Spain’s case serves as a reminder of the EU’s stringent stance on environmental protection and the consequences of non-compliance.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.