Brussels takes Spain to European justice for failing to comply with wastewater treatment in 133 towns

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Demonstration in Madrid demanding protection of rivers.
Demonstration in Madrid demanding protection of rivers.Gustavo Valente (Europa Press)

In 133 Spanish urban agglomerations, wastewater from domestic and industrial environments is discharged without receiving adequate treatment to protect the environment. This long-standing situation has prompted the European Commission to take Spain to the jurisdiction of the European Union. The executive, led by Ursula von der Leyen, explained in a statement this Wednesday that “progress” has been made since the file began, but these are insufficient, meaning that after several warnings, Brussels has returned justice to Spain. Finished moving.

At the moment, in the process, the Commission is not asking that Spain be fined – as is the case in seven other places due to its lack of purification and that has already cost the state 63 million euros in sanctions – but Magistrates issue punishment for non-compliance with European environmental standards. But if, after this presumed sentencing, these 133 groups continue to discharge untreated water, Brussels could sue Spain again and request a fine, as with the case that has already They are forced to pay 63 million euros.

instructions for Wastewater treatment in urban centers approved 31 years agoThere is a need for collection and treatment of urban wastewater discharges so that they do not harm the environment. This translates into the establishment of purification systems in “groups” (cities, urban nucleus associations and industrial estates), and when appropriate, individual or equivalent mechanisms, as long as “the same level of environmental protection” is achieved.

Due to its non-compliance in these 133 clusters, the Commission opened an acceptance file more than five years ago, in December 2016. In accordance with the action procedure in the event of a violation, the Community Executive, headed by Luxembourgish Jean-Claude Juncker, sent a formal letter to Spain that must be answered. It came but it was not enough. “A technical evaluation of the responses from Spain shows that widespread violations of the directive’s obligations continue, taking into account that 133 groups discharge into common areas or sensitive areas. Despite some progress, Spain is not expected to fully meet its obligations in the near future. Therefore, the Commission sends you a reasoned opinion and asks you to expedite compliance,” Brussels explained in February 2020, when it took the next step in the file. This Wednesday marks the end of the known administrative route and the opening of the judicial route.

Earlier this year, Spain had 26 open European files for environmental violations. It was the country of the European Union where most such procedures were open. Spain has been at the top of that list for years, a situation due, in part, to the parliamentary blockade and failed legislatures that Spain has suffered recently. This slowed down legislative activity and transfer of rules.

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But there are other cases that go back many years and are caused by an apparent lack of investment to meet European standards. The same is the case with the purification of waters that are released into rivers and seas without adequate treatment, as is the case with that file for the 133 groups. In addition to the complaint that the Commission has just submitted and the case which ended in the approval of the millionaire, there are three other open European files in Spain open to poor debugging. Those that are most advanced are those that affect the largest populations and those that affect the most sensitive environmental areas.

The responsibility of water treatment lies with the municipality in Spain. City councils are the ones that have the powers of purification, but after years of non-compliance and the lack of economic resources of many localities, autonomous communities and the state assumed the construction of the necessary treatment plants and facilities. However, despite this support, non-compliance has continued for more than three decades following the approval of European environmental regulations that seek to protect the EU’s water quality.

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