NGOs claim strong EU water law "under threat"

Groups call on European Parliament to strengthen Council water framework directive text

A coalition of EU environmental groups today called on the European Parliament to press for tough controls on water quality when it gives a second reading to the draft water framework directive next week. The NGOs claimed that the common position reached by EU ministers last year would effectively "deregulate" existing water law and "destroy 25 years of EU water legislation." It called on MEPs to strengthen the law's "obligatory nature".

In its current form, the groups complained, the water framework directive would remove current groundwater protection and allow EU member states up to 34 years to comply with its provisions which, in any case, were poorly drafted and probably not even legally enforceable. The Council's text also permitted extensive exemptions to the measures imposed and weakened control of toxic discharges to water (ENDS Daily 12 March 1999).

The coalition urged MEPs to back environment committee amendments to the common position that would remedy these defects. The committee has suggested that EU member states should be required to achieve quality standards rather than just "aim" to achieve them. It wants implementation deadlines to be shortened and derogations restricted.

The coalition says the proposals pose a particular threat to groundwater, by "repealing a strong law and replacing it with weak provisions." The Council text would remove a ban on hazardous substances entering water, replacing it with an obligation to act only if there was a "significant and sustained" deterioration in water quality status, the coalition says. The key element of preventive action would be lost and could lead to severe contamination of groundwaters before action is taken, it adds.

The grouping is also calling for tighter controls on toxic substance released into ground and surface waters. Here MEPs will vote whether or not to push for the EU to enshrine a pledge made last year to end discharges of hazardous substances to the marine environment by 2020 (ENDS Daily 27 January). Susan Leubuscher of the NGO Seas at Risk said a failure by MEPs to tighten the directive would "send a message that industry groups will [influence] every area of the environment for years to come - starting with the upcoming European chemicals review."

Follow Up:
{European Parliament} ({http}://{www}.{europarl}.{eu}.{int}), tel: +32 2 284 2111; {Greenpeace} ({http}://{www}.{greenpeace}.{org}), tel: +49 40 724 0085; {EEB} ({http}://{www}.{eeb}.{org}), tel: +32 2 289 1090.

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