Stage set for conflict over EU water law

Conciliation "definite" as MEP retables demands for full-cost pricing, earlier implementation

The European Parliament's rapporteur on the draft water framework directive has threatened new conflict with member states over future EU water standards by restating proposals that caused deep disagreement between the two sides at the measure's first reading. Mari-Nöelle Lienemann's second reading report on the directive insists on full-cost pricing for water use and calls for new rules in the draft water framework directive to be implemented six years earlier than EU countries want.

Ms Lienemann told the Parliament's environment committee that her aim was to "re-emphasise the main thrust" of amendments not taken on board by ministers in their first reading common position (ENDS Daily 22 October). The directive is intended to introduce river basin management as the basis for achieving tougher water quality standards.

EU environment ministers' first reading common position was reached amid much acrimony with the Parliament. MEPs were angered that ministers reached a "high level of common understanding" before they had received Parliament's opinion. Subsequent negotiations to resolve differences on 14 outstanding points resulted in agreement on only three (ENDS Daily 3 February).

Ms Lienemann has now retabled most of the amendments rejected by ministers, including changes on the three key issues of water pricing, implementation deadlines and the phase-out of hazardous substances. A source said that differences with the Council were so great that the dossier would "definitely" have to be resolved through the conciliation procedure.

The Parliament wants to ensure that water pricing structures "ensure full cost recovery" for environmental costs. The Council has agreed a weaker reference to the principle as many southern EU members heavily subsidise irrigation in dry regions. In a compromise bid, Mrs Lienemann has removed a demand that would have forced agriculture, industry and households to achieve full-cost pricing individually.

Ministers are also proposing that the directive's water quality standards are achieved 16 years after it comes into force and want those countries having difficulty with the targets to be able to extend the deadline for up to 18 years. The Lienemann report restates the Parliament's position that a decade is long enough to meet the standards, and that exemptions should be limited to 12 years.

Finally, the report reaffirms the Parliament's insistence that the directive give binding force to pledges made by a number of EU states last year to cease emissions of hazardous substances to the marine environment by 2020 (ENDS Daily 23 July 1998).

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

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