Parliament defiant on Ospar commitment

MEPs call for EU water law to require an to end to hazardous substances emissions by 2020

The European Parliament today insisted that the EU water framework directive should implement an EU promise to end releases of hazardous substances into the marine environment. Considering the draft law at second reading in Strasbourg today, MEPs approved several other changes that are likely to lead to conflict with EU governments in the Council of Ministers.

MEPs agreed by a big majority that member states "shall progressively eliminate pollution...by continuously reducing discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances...thereby moving towards the target of their cessation by 31 December 2020. The wording mirrors a commitment made under the Ospar convention in 1998.

Governments have been cautious about its consequences, with some saying it would be "inappropriate" to enact it in the directive. They have been backed by the Commission. MEP Alexander de Roo of the parliament's Green/EFA group said the endorsement of the Ospar target was "remarkable given the tremendous combined lobbying pressure from governments and the chemical industry" against it.

In other changes approved today, MEPs agreed that governments should meet the directive's water quality objectives 10 years after it enters into force, not 16 as agreed by governments. However, they agreed with the council that compliance deadlines could be extended by a maximum of 18 years for countries having difficulty meeting the targets. Commission approval for extensions will be needed after the first six years.

On the delicate issue of water pricing, MEPs called for policies to "provide adequate incentives" for "efficient" use of water in all economic sectors (ENDS Daily 27 January). However, they voted down the environment committee's call for the commission to develop proposals to "ensure that environmental and resource costs are reflected in the price of water uses."

The parliament also voted to make the directive more "binding" by introducing aims with obligations in several key articles. Liberal MEP Chris Davies said this "should help in the conciliation process" as it now had "a degree of legal commitment...instead of being a directive in name only."

However, environmental group Greenpeace described the vote as a "disaster" for groundwater protection. The group said that an existing directive that was effective and preventive would now be repealed, with no provisions in place to require action when deterioration in groundwater quality occured (ENDS Daily 10 February).

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111.

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