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New study on the Nitrates Directive

Spark, in consortium with Ecorys, Ecologic, CSERGE and the University of Ghent is conducting an evaluation study for the European Commission (DG ENV) on the Nitrates Directive.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are two of the main nutrients needed for the uptake of plants in agriculture. They are a common component of fertilisers used in agricultural processes. However, through these processes, losses of excess nutrients to the environment can lead to water pollution especially due to dissolved nitrates. This can lead to the eutrophication of water bodies. Eutrophication means an increased growth of algae and plants caused by an excess of nutrients which can lead to oxygen depletion and severe impacts on life under water. Volatilisation of nitrogen also contributes to air pollution, forming particulate matter and ozone, and nitrogen-based fertilisers can also contribute to emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Nutrient excess in water is linked to the loss of water quality, biodiversity loss and negative climate impacts. Furthermore, nutrient pollution also impacts human uses of water, with deleterious effects on human activities such as fishery, aquaculture, recreation and tourism.

The Nitrates Directive was adopted in 1991 and has as its aim to reduce and prevent water pollution caused or induced by nitrates from agricultural sources. This pollution is derived from livestock production and crop fertilisation. The Directive requires Member States to identify waters affected by pollution and waters which could be affected by pollution if action is not taken by the Member States; and to designate as vulnerable zones all areas of land which drain into the waters identified.

The present study complements a previous study’s outputs by developing particular contributions that help complete the requirements for an evaluation of the Nitrates Directive. It consists of nine tasks, two of which are leaded by Spark.

  • Providing a complete overview of the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) regarding the Directive since its adoption in 1991 until today, as well as of the most relevant jurisprudence of national courts. It will entail the identification of relevant case-law, as well as the analysis of the main outcomes.
  • Review of the implementation of the Nitrates Directive in Poland, Romania and Croatia, which represent the largest agricultural producing countries of the three latest enlargement rounds. The main objective of this task is to carry out a review of the implementation of the Directive in the context of the accession processes of these three countries, together with a comparative analysis of their implementation process; and to identify the key lessons learned from the implementation of the Directive during the latest three enlargement rounds. 

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