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Europe condemns France for non-compliance with Nitrates Directive - On 13 June, the EU Court of Justice ruled against France for its failure to comply with the provisions of the Nitrates Directive of 1991. In a joint statement, France’s ministries of agriculture and ecology recalled that the nitrates directive requires the designation of “vulnerable zones” where action programmes must be implemented.

According to the EU Court of Justice, there were shortcomings in the vulnerable zones that France designated in the Adour-Garonne, Rhone-Mediterranean, Rhine-Meuse and Loire-Brittany basins and on 13 June France was condemned for failure to comply with the provisions of the Nitrates Directive. “This condemnation could be foreseen. It penalises the inadequacy of the action taken by previous governments,” stated French ministers Delphine Batho and Stéphane Le Foll. They pointed out that since the beginning of their mandates they have worked “to improve the situation, notably by revising the boundaries of the “vulnerable zones” in December 2012 by orders of the Basin-Coordinator Prefects.”

The minister for ecology is expected to meet shortly with the European Commissioner for the Environment to present this corrective action. The French government is also planning new measures such as vegetated strips along waterways, establishing conditions for spreading on sloping, water-saturated ground and requirements for vegetation-covered land. The interministerial decree will come into force upon its publication in September 2013.

Another decree will bring in extensions to closed periods for spreading as required by soil and weather conditions for specific crops and geographical areas. The decree will apply to the regional action programmes that will come into force in the first quarter of 2014.

Furthermore, as part of the establishment of surveillance zones for nitrate action programmes, the government plans to facilitate the replacement of mineral nitrogen with organic nitrogen from livestock manure and by-products from methanation by incorporating a system to monitor the total amount of mineral and organic nitrogen applied.

Today, since only organic nitrogen is recorded, there is no incentive to restrict the use of chemical fertilisers. Finally, “in order not to penalise grass-fed farming,” the government will be requesting an exemption to the maximum application amount of 170 kg of nitrogen per hectare.