Water framework directive makes progress

EU Environment Ministers have reached a political agreement on the water framework directive, and expressed willingness to negotiate with the European Parliament to get the directive adopted quickly.

Yesterday’s Environment Council meeting underlined its interest in adopting the directive promptly and its willingness to strive for an agreement with the European Parliament within the framework of the subsequent legislative procedure.

The directive has been a bone of contention between the Parliament and the Council, with many areas still to be resolved, and some fear that it is becoming a political football in a power struggle between the institutions (see previous article).

In this context, the Council emphasised that the informal consultations with the European Parliament have been extremely useful and confidence building. The compromise texts developed during these consultations and partly mutually agreed upon were included both by the European Parliament in its Opinion at first reading delivered on 11 February and now also by the Council in its political agreement.

The draft Directive aims at achieving good quality for all Community waters (inland surface water, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater) by 2010. “Good quality” is taken to mean the respect of quality standards and emission limit values. Water policy would be implemented on the basis of river basin management plans rather than according to political or administrative divisions. For each river basin, the directive would require:

  • an assessment of the characteristics of the basin,
  • the establishment of Programmes of Measures to achieve the objectives of the directive,
  • the summarising of all the above in a River Basin Management Plan, and

    public consultation on that Plan.

In addition, the draft Directive contains :

  • a mechanism to take account of the principle of recovery of costs for water services ,
  • action to combat accidental pollution,
  • specific provisions on discharges of dangerous substances from small industrial installations not covered by the Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC),
  • the possibility of designating “protected areas”,
  • a procedure for the development of co-ordinated strategies for dealing with pollution by individual pollutants or groups of pollutants.

Bringing back to good status all the waters of the Community after generations of pollution is intended to be achieved within 16 years after entry into force of the Directive. Under certain conditions, however, 3 further extension cycles of 6 years have been provided for.

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