EU water framework plan loopholes attacked

Measure should aim to eliminate pollution by hazardous substances, says EEB

European environmental groups have called for a new long-term objective and stricter standards to be introduced into the European Commission's proposed water framework directive, following a seminar in Brussels. Coordinated by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), which represents NGOs around the continent, the group said they had "serious concerns" with the draft directive.

In a letter to the Commission, the EEB said that the directive was "missing a clear long term goal". The aim of reducing concentrations of hazardous substances in the marine environment to "close to zero" agreed by North Sea environment ministers in the 1995 Esbjerg declaration should be inserted into the proposal, it said.

The EEB also took issue with a plan to give equal ranking to environmental quality objectives and emissions values under the so-called "combined approach". The directive should follow the principles of prevention at source and polluter pays, the group said, by explicitly demanding measures to avoid and reduce emissions at source. "It is important that the directive doesn't just set up a complicated system but sets clear standards," the EEB's Christian Hey told ENDS Daily.

Lack of democratic accountability was another criticism levelled at the directive. "Decisive details," such as the definition of "good status" of waters, are included in annexes which the Commission proposes could be updated after adoption of the directive by committee. The annexes should be "disconnected" from the framework measure and given the status of daughter directives, enabling the European Parliament and other organisations to comment on any proposed changes, the EEB said.

Proposals to repeal existing water protection legislation in favour of the new framework policy are also exercising NGOs. It is not clear either that new regulations will guarantee at least the same level of protection as the old ones, or that member states will transpose the framework directive into law before older directives are repealed, the EEB said.

The group underlined its demand for real public involvement in the river basin management approach proposed by the Commission, calling for "water parliaments" to be created for each basin in every member state.

Although it was proposed over a year ago, the framework directive remains lodged in the Council of Ministers, while the European Parliament has yet to produce a draft report, some MEPs having threatened last year to reject the measure altogether (ENDS Daily 2 July 1997).

The UK presidency has said that it hopes to make "substantial progress" in negotiations by the June Environment Council meeting. However, one EU diplomat told ENDS Daily that Germany is already preparing to take on the dossier when it takes over the EU presidency after Austria in January 1999.

Follow Up:
EEB, tel: +32 2 289 1090.

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