A solution is emerging in the dispute between Germany and the EU Commission over nitrate levels in groundwater.

As the Federal Ministry of Agriculture (BMEL) announced on Wednesday, the EU Commission has accepted the federal government's new proposals for the designation of areas polluted with nitrate.

Germany could thus avert high fines, which are due to the violation of the EU nitrate directive - and put aside a conflict that has been going on for years.

The adjustments would increase the area of ​​the so-called red areas by 45 percent to 2.9 million hectares.

Farmers there would then have to get by with a fifth less fertilizer.

Jessica von Blazekovic

Editor in Business.

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"We have mastered an important stage, but have not yet quite reached our goal," said Federal Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir (Greens).

It took a lot of talks to convince the EU Commission.

"We shouldn't overstrain our patience over the last few meters and come to a conclusion quickly."

Approval from all countries seems possible.

“Our farmers have been the victims of unfortunate delaying tactics towards Brussels for far too long.

Now it needs clarity and stability,” said Özdemir.

A fine of 800,000 euros per day is conceivable

The European nitrate directive has existed since 1991. Germany has never been able to comply with the limit value of 50 micrograms per liter of groundwater across the board.

It is torn at over a quarter of all measuring points.

Areas in the north, where many farm animals are kept and correspondingly large amounts of liquid manure, are particularly heavily polluted.

Despite several changes to fertilizer law, Berlin was unable to resolve the complaints from Brussels, so the dispute ended up before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2018.

The federal government made improvements, but created a loophole that enabled farmers to circumvent the requirements.

As a result, significantly less polluted areas were identified.

In June 2021, EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius threatened further proceedings before the ECJ.

In the event of a conviction, the German court could impose fines of a lump sum of at least 11 million euros and a fine of up to around 800,000 euros a day - retrospectively from the first judgment of 2018. In February, the BMEL finally sent new proposals to Brussels.

The modeling, which had exempted many farmers from the requirements, will be deleted.

In addition, the measuring network of the federal states is to be "significantly" consolidated by 2024, so that from 2028 a uniform regionalization process will define the red areas.

The fertilizer ordinance is a thorn in the side of farmers because it reduces their yields.

Many saw themselves unfairly disadvantaged and took their frustration out onto the streets in the 2019 peasant protests.

The WWF praised the government's stage victory.

Özdemir has thus achieved something that his predecessor Julia Klöckner (CDU) did not want to: "Finally put an end to the back and forth on the subject of fertilizers."