Informal EU water law talks to be launched

Parliament and states to start unprecedented "conciliation" talks on water framework

The European Parliament is to delay its first reading of the proposed EU water framework directive until February, senior MEPs decided today. The assembly will now hold informal talks with the Council of Ministers to see whether the two institutions can bridge their differences.

In the next two months, negotiators from the two institutions will enter an unprecedented style of talks, with the ultimate aim of getting the legislation passed before the Parliament is dissolved for European elections in the summer. The talks on the substantial legislative package - which covers management of all ground, surface and coastal waters - will resemble "conciliation" negotiations.

These are triggered normally in the sole case of a dossier having "co-decision" status and disagreements between the institutions continuing after Parliament's second reading. In this case, the water framework directive has "cooperation" status - under which the Parliament does not have equal legislative powers with the Council - and the assembly has yet to give even a first reading on the dossier.

The exact procedure to be followed remains unclear, but the two sides will aim to come up with a compromise text which can be passed by the Parliament - pending further amendments - in February. This would then be approved by ministers and returned to Parliament for its rubber stamp at a second reading.

The move follows a threat from Parliament that it would delay progress on the dossier the until the Amsterdam Treaty comes into force - expected by June next year - giving it equal legislative powers with EU ministers on most environmental matters (ENDS Daily 28 October). Parliament feared that, otherwise, ministers would ignore its amendments as they reached a consensus on the proposal last June, without waiting for MEPs' opinion.

The chairman of the Parliament's environment committee, MEP Ken Collins, told a senior representative of the Austrian Presidency of the EU that Parliament would only go ahead with the first reading this month if ministers could make substantive changes to their position. The presidency replied that this would be impossible in the time, but agreed to the "conciliation" talks which will start in the coming weeks.

A source in the Parliament pointed out that this sort of early negotiation between the two legislative institutions may become commonplace when the Amsterdam Treaty is in force, to help speed the passage of the increased amount of environmental legislation which will come under the "co-decision" procedure.

The Parliamentary delegation will be looking for concessions on a list of issues which include: reducing the derogations of up to 34 years for implementation of the directive; restoring the Commission's proposal to make all consumers pay the full price for water services; and including wetlands within the directive's scope.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111; EU Council of Ministers, tel: + 32 2 285 6111.

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