Thursday

21st Jan 2021

Audit: EU should have been tougher on Baltic pollution

  • Excess nutrients trigger a process known as eutrophication. (Photo: European Court of Auditors)

The European Commission should have resorted to legal action quicker to make sure countries around the Baltic Sea improve the quality of their waste water, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) said in a report published on Tuesday (12 April).

The Baltic Sea is “one of the most polluted seas in the world”, Ville Itala, the Finnish member of the ECA told journalists on Monday.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Satellite image of the Baltic Sea, 'one of the most polluted seas in the world' (Photo: NASA)

“I go home every summer, and when you see the green algae floating, it's not the best way to start your holiday,” he said.

The Baltic Sea is full of excess nutrients, mostly phosphorus and nitrogen, which cause the rise of potentially toxic algal blooms – a process known as eutrophication.

“It's not only dirty, it's also dangerous,” added Itala, who served as an MEP between 2004 and 2012.

The sea is polluted mostly by inefficient fertiliser use on farms and poor treatment of urban waste water.

The EU has several directives in place to bring down eutrophication and the Court of Auditors – which is not a court but the EU's main audit body – looked at how they were being implemented in countries surrounding the Baltic Sea.

The auditors visited Finland, Latvia, and Poland, and sent questionnaires to Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Lithuania, and Sweden.

They found that by the end of 2012 “limited progress had been made” in the reduction of nutrients ending up in the Baltic Sea. In some cases, the input of nutrients was higher in 2012 when compared with the 1997-2003 average.

Nitrogen inputs were higher in Estonia, Finland, Lithuania and Latvia.

The auditors also noted that some of the reductions took place in areas that were less under threat.

The Court of Auditors noted that member states, who were ultimately responsible for cleaning up their waste water, did not have clearly defined programmes. But it also blamed the commission, which is supposed to check if national governments carry out what is agreed on a European level.

“The commission has been slow to take action to detect breaches and prosecute cases of non-compliance in member states,” the report said.

It said the commission should have been quicker to take action against Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland. These countries joined the EU in 2004 and were given deadlines by which to comply.

The report noted the commission only began formal talks under the so-called EU Pilot system with non-compliant countries “long after the deadlines laid down in the accession treaties”. EU Pilot talks are a procedure that takes place before a formal infringement procedure.

In defence, the commission said sometimes “alternative tools or political dialogue can be a more effective approach than infringement proceedings”, and said its approach had been “appropriate”.

Magazine

Baltic Sea strategy to combat pollution and regional disconnections

The European Commission on Wednesday is set to present a strategy and action plan for the Baltic Sea region aimed at cleaning up the heavily polluted sea, interconnect power grids and transport networks, tear down trade barriers and combat trafficking and organised crime along the borders, according to two draft documents seen by EUobserver.

Denmark to stop North Sea oil drilling in 2050

Denmark's decision to put a deadline on all oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, as part of the country's plan to phase out fossil fuels by 2050, is expected to put pressure on the UK and Norway.

Feature

Paradox: Nordics' privileged youth feel miserable

Young people in the Nordic countries are among the most privileged in the world - yet many of them feel miserable. The Nordic Council is concerned and aims to find out why.

Denmark falls behind in gender-equality ranking

Iceland remains the most gender-equal country in the world, followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden. But one Nordic country sticks out from its neighbours with few female lawmakers, senior officials and managers.

North Atlantic mini states in geopolitical turbulence

Donald Trump wanted to buy Greenland, while the Faroe Islands have come under pressure to ditch China's Huawei for its 5G network. Both incidents reflect growing geopolitical interest for the North Atlantic countries sharing foreign and security policy with Denmark.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary gives initial ok for UK and Russian vaccines
  2. Russia files for Sputnik vaccine registration in EU
  3. Destruction and three deaths in Madrid explosion
  4. Liberals kick out Lithuanian MEP for homophobic jibes
  5. Air pollution killing thousands of Europeans a year
  6. First migrant tragedy of 2021 claims 43 lives
  7. Train revival needed to meet EU climate goals
  8. NGOs shame Monaco for persecuting UK whistleblower

Livestream

Live on EUobserver: UN and the Nordics discuss Covid-19

UN secretary general, António Guterres, discusses the Covid-19 crisis and the challenges the pandemic poses for the global community in a live meeting with Nordic Council party groups and prime ministers. Live on EUobserver today from 18:00 (CET).

Column

The lessons of Grøxit

It is often said that the British were the first to leave the European Union. This is, strictly speaking, not true: both Algeria and Greenland left the club long before Brexit came along.

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. US returns to climate deal and WHO, as EU 'rejoices'
  2. Big tech: From Trump's best friend to censorship machine?
  3. Turkish minister in Brussels to discuss new migrant deal
  4. EU leaders to discuss vaccine certificates
  5. On Erdoğan and Europe's 'ontological' choice
  6. MEPs call to halt Russia pipeline over Navalny arrest
  7. EU targets vaccinating 70% of adults by summer
  8. Portugal pushes to start delayed 'future EU' conference

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us