EU sues Spain over river basin management plans

EU sues Spain over river basin management plans © Guillaume Baviere
© Guillaume Baviere

The European Commission has decided to refer Spain to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for failing to review and update river basin management plans for the Canary Islands.

River basin management plans are the foundation of the EU’s Water Framework Directive, and are designed to outline the main issues faced by each river basin district, as well as the specific measures a country will take to ensure that they meet environmental standards.

Member states had 15 years after the directive entered into force in 2000 to prepare river basin management plans, which must then be updated at least every six years following this. Countries must publish and hold public consultations on a timetable and work programme for the production of management plans.

Plans must contain an overview of the significant water management issues identified, and upon request, must also be able to provide access to draft copies of the management plan and background documents.

How did Spain breach of the directive?

The 15-year deadline for compliance with the directive was 22 December 2015, at which point member states were required to have published their plans. Spanish authorities were responsible for reviewing and updating all of the river basin management plans on its territory.

There are seven basin districts to which the directive applies, which are:

  • El Hierro;
  • Fuerteventura;
  • Gran Canaria;
  • Tenerife;
  • La Gomera;
  • Lanzarote; and
  • La Palma.

Then, authorities were required to report to the European Commission on the outcome of this process by 22 March 2016.

However, Spain has failed to do so, and to ensure compliance with the public information and consultation obligations for establishing plans. Therefore, the country has not taken sufficient efforts to ensure that its river basins in the Canary Islands comply with environmental standards.

What steps has the commission taken?

Last year, the European Commission undertook a number of efforts to encourage Spain to comply with requirements and fulfil its obligations. In April 2017, the commission sent a letter of formal notice to Spain. Following this, it issued a reasoned opinion in October 2017 imploring the country to review its management plans.

Now, the commission has referred Spain to the ECJ as a means of ensuring compliance with the directive, to strengthen environmental protections in the Canary Islands.


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