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EU sends fresh warning to Germany on nitrate levels in groundwater

The European Commission might consider further legal action, possibly leading to fines, against Germany if it does not reduce nitrate levels in its groundwater, a commission letter revealed on Tuesday, May 21, 2019.

Svenja Schulze
German Environment Minister, Svenja Schulze

Brussels and Berlin have been locked in a long-running dispute over high nitrate levels, which often result from fertiliser use and can be harmful to the environment, animals and humans.

In June 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) backed the commission over Germany and told Berlin that it had to lower its nitrate levels to comply with EU law.

In 2017, Germany tightened regulations that, among other things, enacted longer pauses between fertilisation in polluted areas.

However, according to the letter, which was sent to the agriculture and environment ministries and dated May 15, Berlin has not done enough.

In particular, the letter expressed concern with the state of implementation, noting that the commission has not yet gotten a response to a requested update that EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella sent in March.

“The full implementation of Germany’s nitrates directive is essential to ensure the rule of law and improve worrying water quality,’’ the letter said.

A spokesman for Germany’s agriculture ministry said the two ministries will meet on Wednesday to discuss the issue, and that they will respond to the commission on May 28, after EU elections.

“In June, German Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner and Environment Minister Svenja Schulze will propose changes to fertiliser regulations,’’ the spokesman said, adding that this would prevent the need for the ECJ to revisit the issue.

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