At a closed meeting in Brussels yesterday, party chiefs agreed to remove the directive from the agenda of next week's parliamentary session. Chairman of the Parliament's environment committee, UK Socialist Ken Collins, told ENDS Daily that the institution will refuse to discuss the proposal unless it receives concessions from the Council of Ministers.
Specifically, it wants the directive's current status as a "cooperation" procedure to be changed to "co-decision". Under the former, ministers are not compelled to accept amendments suggested by the Parliament. Under the latter, the Parliament has an equal legislative say, a power it used to good effect in the recent battle over Auto/Oil legislation on vehicle emissions and fuel quality.
The Council has already provisionally agreed its stance on the framework directive (ENDS Daily 19 June), even though the Parliament has yet to give the proposal a first reading. The Parliament's rapporteur on the issue, UK Socialist Ian White, has put forward over 120 amendments to the Commission's original proposal. Though most are likely to be accepted by the full Parliament, leading MEPs fear that the Council will ignore almost all of them.
The Parliament's threat carries weight because of an imminent change to the EU's constitution, under the Amsterdam Treaty. This extend the co-decision procedure to a greater range of EU legislation - including the water framework directive if it remains outstanding at the point the treaty enters into force.
Mr Collins said that he would now demand a meeting with the Austrian EU presidency on the issue. He admitted that such negotiations had no precedent in EU procedure, but said that the Parliament had warned the Council repeatedly of the "folly" of making political decisions on draft legislation without consulting MEPs first.
The water framework proposal aims to improve the quality of ground, surface and coastal water and ensure that there is adequate water supply for sustainable development. In the version agreed by the Council in June, ministers deleted the Commission's proposal to internalise environmental costs into the price paid by water consumers. This amendment was criticised by the European Commission, and the Parliament is likely to want to re-instate it.
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