French court: Brittany must do more quickly against nitrate pollution

A French regional court has summoned the provincial government of Brittany to finally do something about nitrate pollution in the soil water. The French western coastal province has been given four months to take concrete steps against the extensive algae growth on the coast and in rivers and canals.

The lawsuit was brought by environmentalists and ecological groups. The excessive use of fertilizers and chemicals in agricultural practices leads to increased nitrate levels in groundwater and surface water, the administrative court has also concluded. 

The rapid growth of algae in ditches and rivers not only has ecological implications, but also economic consequences for fishing and tourism. The abundant algal blooms reduce oxygen levels in the water, which harms aquatic ecosystems and threatens fish populations. In addition, it has an impact on the attractiveness of the coastal area for tourists, the ruling states.

The environmental organization Eaux et Rivières de Bretagne described the ruling as an important signal. The organization noted that the French state has been trying unsuccessfully for more than a decade to reduce nitrate pollution through voluntary action.  According to them, the current approach is not sufficient. Environmentalists say similar sentences have already been handed down in 2009, 2012 and 2021.

In response to the verdict, the provincial government of Brittany has stated that they understand the urgency of the problem and are determined to take action. It is still unclear what specific measures the province will take.

The regional case also has wider implications for the rest of France and other EU countries facing similar environmental concerns. The lawsuit shows that the pressure from both citizen groups and the EU itself to comply with strict environmental regulations is increasing. 

European directives oblige EU countries to take measures to reduce levels of nitrate pollution, for example by reducing agricultural chemicals and manure spreading.

Countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland have already faced EU sanctions in the past year for failing to comply with these guidelines. France has also been urged by the European Commission to monitor compliance with environmental laws more closely.