New EU water law challenges reviewed

Stakeholders call for rapid implementation of framework directive on water

Prospects for the EU's largest ever new piece of water legislation have been in the spotlight at a conference in Lille, France, sponsored by the current French presidency of the EU. Following the meeting, the European water industry and environmentalist coalition the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) have both called for rapid implementation of the law.

The water framework directive was finalised just before the summer break. It was formally ratified by the European Parliament earlier this month and by the Council of Ministers on Thursday. The law will enter into force immediately upon publication in the EU's official journal, which could now happen within days, according to sources.

Last week's Lille conference was focused on the integration of economic assessment in water policy decision making. It followed shortly after the European Commission suggested guidelines for internalising environmental costs into water prices to implement one of the directive's key provisions (ENDS Daily 31 July).

Interviewed by ENDS Daily, Francis Rillairts of EU water industry association Eureau said it was now time to move towards implementation. Eureau believed the Commission's communication on water pricing was "fair," he said, even if the association did not agree with all aspects of its suggestions.

"We need action," said the EEB's Stefan Scheuer. This should include starting to charge all consumers for both quantitative and qualitative consumption of water, he said. Key needs now, Mr Scheuer went on, were for the EU to put in place "best practice" guidelines and to re-evaluate agricultural subsidies. He looked forward to future sector-by-sector reporting on water pricing and water quotas for farmers, including penalties for over-use.

EU agricultural industry associations Cogeca and Copa were notable absentees at the conference. A spokesperson said that they had not been invited. She claimed that sectoral targets would penalise farmers. If farmers used water "in a reasonable way" and abide by "best practice" requirements, they should not have to pay more, because water is such an "important production cost" in agriculture, she said.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. See also the official conference website.

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