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The EU Nitrates Directive permits a maximum application of 170 kg/ha for nitrogen from manure annually. However, EU countries can request that a higher maximum limit of nitrogen from manure be allowed, in specific areas and under particular conditions, so as to ensure that this does not lead to higher water pollution. This request is granted via Commission Implementing Decisions, commonly known as derogations.

The countries which currently avail of a derogation:

  • Ireland – up 31 December 2021
  • Netherlands – also up on the 31 December 2021
  • Belgium (Flanders only) – up 31 December 2022
  • Northern Ireland – up 31 December 2022
  • Denmark – up 31 July 2024

Process for Securing a Derogation

DG Environment, within the European Commission, manage (and chair) a “Comitology Committee for the adaptation to scientific and technical progress and implementation of the directive on protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources”- known as the “Nitrates Committee”. The committee meet 4 times a year, attended by relevant unit officials from DG ENV and member state authorities. From Ireland usually both representatives from the Department of Housing and the Department of Agriculture attend. Member states applying for a derogation (or a renewal of a derogation) must make a presentation on the environmental situation, the need for the derogation and actions undertaken to ensure that the higher nitrogen limit is not and will not contribute to higher pollution. The Commission then draft an Implementing Decision outlining the conditions under which the derogation is granted. This is then approved or rejected through a vote of EU member state authorities at the Nitrates Committee. A qualified majority is needed to adopt Decision.

Current State of Play

Ireland’s current derogation expires at the end of 2021. The Department of Housing and the Department of Agriculture made a presentation on their application for a derogation at the last Nitrates Committee on 15th June 2021.

A vote on the renewal of the derogation for both Ireland and the Netherlands (whose current derogation also expires at the end of 2021) was due to take place in the next meeting in December. However, this vote has now been pushed to the following meeting in March 2022.

It is anticipated that the existing derogation measures will be maintained until a decision is made in March.

Alison Graham – European Affairs Executive