In three hours of voting yesterday, the committee passed some 270 amendments to the draft suggested by UK socialist MEP Ian White. The proposals will now go to the full Parliament for a first reading.
The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), which represents NGOs across the EU, has reacted to the committee's opinion with dismay. Previously, the group has strongly criticised both the Commission's original proposal for the directive and an informal deal on the dossier reached by EU environment ministers earlier this month. It hoped that the Parliament would be a motor for significantly strengthening the law, but says the chance now appears to have been wasted.
"I think the Parliament and the Council are heading in the same direction," Christian Hey of the EEB told ENDS Daily. "As things stand now I don't see a fundamental difference that justifies an institutional conflict."
The EEB argues that the version of the draft law agreed on by the committee would effectively allow EU governments to opt out of any provisions of the proposed directive they did not like.
"The committee voted against any proposals that would restrict the exemptions and possibilities for derogation mentioned in the Commission proposal. This amounts to inviting member states not to take the requirements of the directive seriously," says a statement from the organisation. The EEB also argues that the committee has decided to tolerate increasing levels of groundwater pollution until strong evidence for deterioration in quality is found.
"This criterion is unacceptable, taking into account the time lag between the actual pollution and the measurable deterioration and the even longer time constraints of clean-up activities," the statement continues.
The group says that some strengthening of the draft law has been proposed by the committee, in particular on the definition of "hazardous substances". Possibly dangerous substances should be designated under EU legislation by applying the precautionary principle, the MEPs have proposed.
Overall, though, "there is now little chance left for the water framework directive to become a strong tool for the protection of European waters," said Mr Hey. The committee's vote means the law will be "[non]-binding, unambitious and useless".
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