EU and national water experts met in Brussels to hear the first thoughts of the Commission's environment directorate, DGXI, since member states asked for a 1994 plan to revise the directive to be dropped in July.
A new proposal is unlikely to be made before 2000, according to DGXI officials, but the directorate is understood to have presented a new "managerial approach" on Monday. This would, for the first time, allow a differentiation in rules governing, for example fresh and coastal bathing waters or colder northern and warmer southern waters.
"It's like setting quality standards for beer," an official said. "If you compare Guinness with a normal lager - it's different - you cannot apply the same standards." The ultimate aim remains to ensure the same level of protection for consumers in all types of water, he stressed.
Experts who attended the meeting have been asked to report back on their countries' initial reactions to DGXI's ideas by the end of December. If responses are positive, the directorate intends to conduct wider consultations throughout next year before beginning to draw up a new legal text.
Many member states were unhappy with the Commission's 1994 revision proposal, which proposed stringent new water quality standards that would have bumped up compliance costs considerably. Its unpopularity was made clear as successive EU presidencies declined to take forward negotiations of the proposal - until Austria stepped forward earlier this year (ENDS Daily 20 May). In May, EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard indicated that she was prepared to be "creative" to make progress on the directive's revision.
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.
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