Tuesday, July 27

Ultimatum from Brussels to Spain for urban wastewater

Aerial view of the Vila-Seca and Salou treatment plant, in the province of Tarragona.

Aerial view of the Vila-Seca and Salou treatment plant, in the province of Tarragona.

It is not the first time that Spain has faced a ultimatum from the European Commission for not guaranteeing the correct treatment of urban wastewater in some of its cities. In July 2018, the EU Court of Justice sentenced the Spanish State to pay a fine for this reason. Almost three years later, the situation could repeat itself. According to Brussels, there are “30 agglomerations that lack collection systems for their wastewater” and the Spanish authorities have not justified the reasons. Spain now has two months term to present allegations to the Community Executive. If you do not convince Brussels the case could end up again before the European justice.

European legislation, which dates back to 1991, obliges Member States to ensure that agglomerations of more than 15,000 inhabitants – towns, cities or residential areas – collect and properly treat their wastewater, eliminating or reducing all unwanted effects. Spain should be fully complying with the requirements of the directive since 2005, more than fifteen years ago. However, and despite a first infringement procedure opened in 2012, “Spain continues to breach in general terms its obligations in terms of collection and treatment in 332 agglomerations”, of which 30 also lack collecting systems Therefore, for the treatment of urban wastewater themselves they depend, partially or completely, on suitable individual systems.

According to the Commission, Spain has not explained whether there is any justification to explain this lack, while the study of the individual systems has shown that “they cannot achieve the same level of environmental protection as a collecting system”, the requirement imposed the European directive. Therefore, it concludes that the 30 agglomerations “are not equipped with a system that allows to collect and treat all their urban wastewater in accordance with the directive.”

Brussels also reminds the Spanish authorities that the other 302 agglomerations also do not meet the requirements of European regulations because the water either does not enter the collector systems or is not treated correctly or does not meet the post-treatment standards. The notice takes the form of a reasoned opinion, the second phase in the infringement procedure. The Spanish authorities now have two months to respond to the concerns of the Community Executive. Otherwise the case could end up again before the European justice.

In 2018, the EU Court already ruled that nine municipalities, out of the 17 denounced at the beginning, -– Alhauín el Grande, Barbate, Coín, Isla Cristina, Nerja, Matalascañas and Tarifa in Andalusia, Gijón east in Asturias and Güimar valley in Canary Islands – they did not have collectors and they did not comply with the rules and imposed a fine of 12 million to Spain. The new case affects a different list of agglomerations, although the Commission has not specified which ones it is.

In addition to this ultimatum, the European Commission has also asked Spain, and 16 other Member States, to fully incorporate the new regulations on waste management and also the regulations on the prevention of packaging waste. The authorities have another two months to inform Brussels. The list of decisions taken by Brussels also includes a request to the Spanish authorities to update the Balearic flood risk plan and a threat of complaint before the European justice for not correctly transposing the regulations on protection against radiation, adopted after the Fukushima disaster.


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