EU water framework talks end with no deal

Parliament, Council, disagreements dash hopes for early adoption of major EU water law

The European Parliament and Council of Ministers have failed to compromise over a major overhaul of EU water law intended to set new standards for management of all water resources into the next century. Talks between the two institutions ended last week without agreement on 11 out of 14 points in contention.

It is now extremely unlikely that the water framework directive will be finalised within the lifetime of this parliament, which dissolves in May before European elections in June. Final agreement on the measure could now be delayed by many months, not only due to the elections, but also because the Parliament is likely to have greater powers over it by the autumn, when the Amsterdam EU treaty should have entered into force.

Some are blaming the UK for blocking a substantial compromise between the institutions. A source close to the negotiating group told ENDS Daily that the UK seemed determined to cling onto the unofficial Council position reached under its presidency last June (ENDS Daily 18 June 1998).

The Parliament is due to vote on the issue at its plenary session in Strasbourg next week. Its rapporteur, UK Socialist Ian White, will present the report the environment committee voted through last year, along with a few minor changes that resulted from the negotiations with the Council (ENDS Daily 25 June 1998).

The three main areas of compromise achieved are the inclusion of wetlands in the directive's scope, rules on public consultation and rules on marine conservation. The two sides also agreed to include endocrine-disrupting chemicals in one of the annexes. Because of the unusual procedures involved, these "compromise amendments" must first be accepted this week by the political groups represented in the environment committee before they can be tabled for the plenary vote.

The main points of contention that remain unresolved include an up to 34-year time-scale for implementation envisaged by the Council and the issue of whether consumers should always pay the full price for water use. The Council wants to remove the Commission's water charging proposal but the parliament looks set to bid to keep it.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111; EU Council of Ministers, tel: + 32 2 285 6111.

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