Five member states named in EU enforcement action on bathing water quality

The European Commission (EC) has issued warnings and notices of imminent European Court action to five EU member states for failures either to meet bathing water quality standards or failures to monitor coastal and inland waters adequately.

The five countries at issue are:

  • UK
  • France
  • the Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • Italy

The United Kingdom

The UK risks a second appearance at the European Court over a case that dates back many years. The EC began investigating allegations that bathing water quality in the Blackpool and Southport areas (both on England’s northwest coast) was below Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (UWWTD) standards in the 1980s. In 1993, the European Court decided in the EC’s favour and decided that the UK was in breach of the UWWTD.

Now, the EC is warning that Blackpool’s bathing water continues to fail quality standards and that plans for infrastructure improvements do not guarantee compliance. (Please see the UK section of this edition of edie news for a separate article detailing the Environment Agency for England’s plans to remedy the Blackpool bathing water situation.)


The EC’s dispute with France over bathing water has two parts. First, the EC points out that France has “decided to stop measuring one of the quality standards required by the Bathing Water Directive” – that is, the total coliforms parameter. France has replaced total coliforms with another parameter and for this infringement the EC has decided to take France to court.

The second area of concern regarding France’s bathing water quality relates to the country’s alleged failure to meet minimum sampling frequency. “Though improving, the sampling is still insufficient, since 4.4% of all inland fresh waters were not sufficiently sampled in 1998,” says the EC. A decision regarding whether to pursue this issue in the European Court will be taken in three months, once the EC has had a look at France’s 1999 bathing water monitoring data.

The Netherlands

Bathing water quality in the Netherlands in 1998 varied considerably, depending on whether the sample was taken from coastal or inland fresh waters. The EC is concerned that 14.4% of Dutch inland fresh waters failed Bathing Water Directive standards in 1998 (compared to only 1.3% of coastal waters) and that 9.4% of those waters were insufficiently monitored. As in the French case, the EC will wait until it sees 1999 data before it decides on the necessity of court action.


A failure by Sweden in 1998 to monitor both coastal and inland fresh bathing water has brought on an EC warning. Data shows that 10.3% of coastal bathing areas and 23.2% of inland fresh water bathing waters were insufficiently sampled.


The EC has issued a warning to Italy over bathing waters because the country has failed to sample waters properly for the last four years.

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