Experts debate future EU bathing water rules

Report shows EU countries sceptical of tougher standards; officials stress shift to holistic management

More than 100 water quality managers and experts from EU and candidate countries are meeting this week in Brussels to debate European Commission plans to revise the 1976 bathing water directive. One of the most contentious issues is a proposed tightening of microbiological standards; a consultancy report circulated to delegates has revealed strong national resistance to the stricter of two suggested standards.

The Commission unveiled proposals for new bathing water rules earlier this year (ENDS Daily 10 January), while continuing to seek judgements in the European Court of Justice against several EU member states for failing to comply with the current ones.

According to the consultancy report, a survey of 12 member states carried out last year revealed a general recognition that the directive's rules should be revised. According to author Kieran Conlan, however, there is concern that the tougher "EC expert standard" might not be achievable, and some authorities also say that any additional health protection benefits have not been proven.

The Commission is not preoccupied with arguing about numbers, an official told ENDS Daily. What's more important is reaching agreement on the broader changes planned, he added. These will require a "change in mindset" from simply monitoring beach water quality, as is required under the current directive, to creation of a holistic beach management system.

The first steps of this process would involve identifying all sources of pollution and establishing a risk profile for each beach. The official said that this structure should assist member states in finding the sources of persistent quality problems at specific sites.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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