Language of document : ECLI:EU:C:2015:433

Case C‑461/13

Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland eV

v

Bundesrepublik Deutschland

(Request for a preliminary ruling from the Bundesverwaltungsgericht)

(Reference for a preliminary ruling — Environment — EU action in the field of water policy — Directive 2000/60/EC — Article 4(1) — Environmental objectives relating to surface waters — Deterioration of the status of a body of surface water — Project for the development of a navigable waterway — Obligation of the Member States not to authorise a project that may cause a deterioration of the status of a body of surface water — Decisive criteria for determining whether there is a deterioration of the status of a body of water)

Summary — Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber), 1 July 2015

1.        Environment — EU action in the field of water policy — Directive 2000/60 — Environmental objectives relating to surface waters — Binding force of the provisions laying down those objectives and obligation of the Member States to attain them

(European Parliament and Council Directive 2000/60, Arts 3, 4(1)(a)(i) to (iii) and (7), 5, 8, 11 and 13 and Annex V)

2.        Environment — EU action in the field of water policy — Directive 2000/60 — Framework directive by nature — Complete harmonisation of national laws — No such harmonisation

(Art. 175(1) EC (now Art. 192(1) TFEU); European Parliament and Council Directive 2000/60)

3.        Environment — EU action in the field of water policy — Directive 2000/60 — Environmental objectives relating to surface waters — Concept of deterioration of the status of a body of surface water

(European Parliament and Council Directive 2000/60, Art. 4(1)(a)(i) and (7))

1.        Article 4(1)(a)(i) to (iii) of Directive 2000/60 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy must be interpreted as meaning that the Member States are required — unless a derogation is granted — to refuse authorisation for an individual project where it may cause a deterioration of the status of a body of surface water or where it jeopardises the attainment of good surface water status or of good ecological potential and good surface water chemical status by the date laid down by the directive.

In the first place, the wording of Article 4(1)(a)(i) of the directive attests to the binding force of that provision. The reference made in it to implementation by the Member States of the necessary measures to prevent deterioration of the status of all bodies of surface water involves an obligation on them to act to that effect. Authorisation of an individual project is construed as such implementation.

In the second place, Article 4(1) of the directive imposes two objectives that are separate, although intrinsically linked. First, in accordance with Article 4(1)(a)(i), the Member States are to implement the necessary measures to prevent deterioration of the status of all bodies of surface water (obligation to prevent deterioration). Second, pursuant to Article 4(1)(a)(ii) and (iii), the Member States are to protect, enhance and restore all bodies of surface water with the aim of achieving good status by the end of 2015 at the latest (obligation to enhance). Those obligations are designed to attain the qualitative objectives pursued by the EU legislature, namely the preservation or restoration of good status, good ecological potential and good chemical status of surface waters.

Furthermore, in order to ensure that the Member States attain those environmental objectives, Directive 2000/60 lays down a series of provisions, in particular Articles 3, 5, 8, 11 and 13 and Annex V, establishing a complex process involving a number of extensively regulated stages, for the purpose of enabling the Member States to implement the necessary measures, on the basis of the specific features and the characteristics of the bodies of water identified in their territories. These matters confirm the interpretation that Article 4(1)(a) of the directive does not simply set out, in programmatic terms, mere management-planning objectives, but has binding effects, once the ecological status of the body of water concerned has been determined, at each stage of the procedure prescribed by the directive.

In the third place, the same is true of the derogation regime provided for in Article 4(7) of Directive 2000/60. In particular, the structure of the categories of derogation which are laid down in Article 4(7) of the directive permits the inference that Article 4 does not contain solely basic obligations, but that it also concerns individual projects.

The obligation to prevent deterioration of the status of bodies of water was granted autonomous ranking by the EU legislature and is not merely an instrument placed at the service of the obligation to enhance the status of bodies of water. It remains binding at each stage of implementation of Directive 2000/60 and is applicable to every surface water body type and status for which a management plan has or should have been adopted.

(see paras 31, 32, 39, 41-44, 47, 49-51, operative part 1)

2.        Directive 2000/60 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy is a framework directive adopted on the basis of Article 175(1) EC (now Article 192(1) TFEU). It establishes common principles and an overall framework for action in relation to water protection and coordinates, integrates and, in a longer perspective, develops the overall principles and the structures for protection and sustainable use of water in the European Union. The common principles and overall framework for action which it lays down are to be developed subsequently by the Member States by means of the adoption of individual measures in accordance with the timescales laid down in the directive. However, the directive does not seek to achieve complete harmonisation of the rules of the Member States concerning water.

(see para. 34)

3.        The concept of ‘deterioration of the status’ of a body of surface water in Article 4(1)(a)(i) of Directive 2000/60 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy must be interpreted as meaning that there is deterioration as soon as the status of at least one of the quality elements, within the meaning of Annex V to the directive, falls by one class, even if that fall does not result in a fall in classification of the body of surface water as a whole. However, if the quality element concerned, within the meaning of that annex, is already in the lowest class, any deterioration of that element constitutes a deterioration of the status of a body of surface water, within the meaning of Article 4(1)(a)(i).

In addition to the wording of that provision and the literal interpretation arising from it, this interpretation is borne out by the rules for assessment of surface water status, which is based on analysis of the ecological status, covering five classes. Those classes are merely an instrument which limits the discretion of the Member States when determining the quality elements which reflect the actual status of a specific body of water. In particular, application of the ‘one out all out’ rule, under which a body of water is to be classified in the class immediately below as soon as the ratio of one of the quality elements falls below the level for the current class would, first, deter the Member States from preventing deterioration of the status of a body of surface water within a status class and, secondly, also result in waters in the lowest class being excluded from the scope of the obligation to prevent deterioration of their status.

As regards the criteria for concluding that there is a deterioration of the status of a body of water, it is clear from the scheme of Article 4 of Directive 2000/60, in particular Article 4(6) and (7), that a deterioration of the status of a body of water, even if transitory, is authorised only subject to strict conditions. It follows that the threshold beyond which breach of the obligation to prevent deterioration of the status of a body of water is found must be low.

A contrary interpretation that only serious impairment constitutes a deterioration of the status of a body of water, an interpretation which is founded, in essence, upon the weighing up of, on the one hand, the adverse effects on waters and, on the other, water-related economic interests, cannot be inferred from the wording of Article 4(1)(a)(i) of Directive 2000/60. Furthermore, such an interpretation does not respect the difference established by the directive between the obligation to prevent deterioration of the status of a body of water and the grounds of derogation laid down in Article 4(7) of the directive, since only the latter involve some weighing up of interests.

(see paras 55-57, 59, 61-63, 67, 68, 70, operative part 2)