France and Portugal to introduce water tax

Both the French and Portuguese governments have announced that they plan to charge users according to use, with France saying it will also penalise polluters of the water system.

Following on from the announcement of an ‘eco-tax’ (see related story), French environment minister Dominique Voynet has revealed her draft water law in which she said she had “invested a lot of energy… over the last four years”. She justified the introduction of the tax according to the ‘polluter pays’ principle. “This application…will contribute to improving the quality of water resources in our country, today threatened in many places,” she said. “It is not acceptable that more than half of French people no longer dare to drink tap water”.

The draft law proposes to charge all users, whether householders, industries or farmers, the same amount per cubic metre, which is not currently the case. Agriculture, which currently benefits from lower charges, despite using 69% of all water supplied, is unhappy with the proposal, as well as another which taxes nitrogen-based pollution from farms, with extra tax for causing excessive nitrate levels in surface and ground water supplies. Pollution levels for the tax are to be calculated by measuring each farm’s nitrogen input and its output in run-off.

The National Federation of Agricultural Syndicates (FNSEA), farming’s main organisational body, said it will continue to fight the application of a tax based on use and demands a greater say in its management.

Another controversial proposal in the proposed law, which has had over 100 public consultation meetings, is the provision for charges to rise in environmentally-sensitive areas to attempt to reduce unnecessary consumption. “Deposits or other forfeits which can block access to water before the first cubic metre has even been consumed, will be ended and it will be forbidden to cut off water supplies”, Voynet added. The minister also said that citizens will be better informed of the service provided and of water costs and will be able to negotiate “in the best conditions with their provider…to be sure that they are paying the right price”.

To achieve the latter, a High Council for Water Services is to be created, the Minister said, which will inform people of the conditions of their water service and give advice on how to better use resources. Contracts for providing services will also be lowered to 12 years from the current 20, Voynet said.

The Portuguese environment ministry (MAOT) said that it would probably introduce its water tax by 2004 and that the reason for it was to meet the costs of implementing the EU’s Water Framework Directive (see related story), which would be following its ‘user pays’ principle to pricing, with funding given for water quality and flow tests and environmental improvements to water systems. The tax will apply to all consumers, whether they are householders or businesses and will probably be set at 0.025 euros (£0.015) per cubic metre.

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