EU water framework law hanging in the balance

European Parliament, Council of Ministers, begin sensitive talks over major legal overhaul

The future of the EU draft water framework directive is hanging in the balance as the European Parliament and EU governments prepare for negotiations that could delay progress on the dossier by months and radically alter its shape.

Chiefs of political groups decided earlier this month to provisionally remove the dossier from the Parliamentary agenda (ENDS Daily 16 October). MEPs are unhappy that the Council of Ministers reached an outline political agreement on the directive before the Parliament had given its first reading. The Parliament also wants to contest many elements already agreed by ministers.

Reporting on progress in the talks at a session of the Parliament's environment committee yesterday, committee chairman Ken Collins said that initial discussions had identified "some areas where some movement" by the Council "ought to be possible". The Parliament is pushing for a more formal meeting with the Austrian EU presidency next week.

The Parliament is seeking an undertaking from the Council that it is "willing and able" to move "substantially" towards the environment committee's position.. This is set out in a draft report on the proposal, which contains over 100 amendments that would make the law more ambitious and would set a stricter timetable for implementation by EU member states. ENDS Daily understands that the Parliament is pushing for concessions in eight areas, although what these are remains unclear.

If it receives an acceptable commitment from the Council, the Parliament will retable the water framework directive for November's main plenary session. This would enable the Environment Council to reach a formal common position on the dossier at its December meeting, after which it would go back to the Parliament for a second reading. Under EU procedural rules, the assembly would be bound to deliver this within four months.

Having undertaken difficult negotiations to reach its political agreement in June, the Council is unlikely to give in easily to the Parliament's demand; senior MEPs are actually expecting it to refuse to compromise, according to one source.

In this case, the Parliament is threatening to postpone its first reading of the dossier until February. This would delay final adoption of the directive for many months because it would not then complete its passage before next June's European Parliament elections. More dramatically, parliamentarians calculate that the Amsterdam treaty on European union would then enter into force while the directive was still in draft form.

Under the new treaty, the water framework proposal would switch automatically from being a "cooperation" procedure to a "co-decision" one.. The Parliament would then have a power of veto over it, meaning that MEPs would be able to force the Council to concede many of the demands it is seeking to get agreed with less orthodox methods now.

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

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