Select Committee on European Communities Eighth Report


18 November 1997

  By the Select Committee appointed to consider Community proposals, whether in draft or otherwise, to obtain all necessary information about them, and to make reports on those which, in the opinion of the Committee, raise important questions of policy or principle, and on other questions to which the Committee considers that the special attention of the House should be drawn.



7531/97 COM(96)49 final Proposal for a Council Directive establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy



  1.    This Report follows a short enquiry in June-July 1997 by Sub­Committee C (Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection) into the European Commission's proposals for a "framework" Directive which would rationalise the existing body of Community water legislation and provide a framework within which other relevant legislation would fit. Members of the Sub-Committee are listed in Appendix 1; the oral and written evidence received is listed in Appendix 2. As the Sub-Committee had recently enquired into other aspects of water policy[1] and the present proposals appeared relatively uncontroversial, a representative but limited range of evidence was sought, on which we have reported selectively rather than comprehensively[2].


  2.    Community water policy dates, like much other European Community environmental legislation, from the 1970s, and can be said to have developed in two phases. The first phase was characterised by "quality objective" legislation, including Directives on Surface Water (1975), Bathing Water (1976), Fish Water (1978), Shellfish Water (1979) and Drinking Water (1980). It also included measures based on emission controls, such as the Dangerous Substances Directive (1976) and its subsequent "daughter" directives, and the Groundwater Directive (1980).[3]

  3.    A ministerial seminar in Frankfurt in 1988, which identified various improvements that needed to be made to existing Community water legislation, led to a second phase, starting with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and the Nitrates Directive in 1991: these were followed in 1994 by a proposal by the Commission for an Ecological Quality of Water Directive (now subsumed in the proposed framework Directive).

  4.    Following a further ministerial seminar in the Hague in 1991, the Council adopted a Resolution in 1992[4] requesting the Commission to draw up proposals for a revision of the Groundwater Directive and for a Groundwater Action Programme[5]. Besides these, the Commission presented proposals for revisions to the Bathing Water and Drinking Water Directives in 1994 and 1995 respectively[6]. The Commission also proposed a new emission control instrument in the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, adopted in 1996.

  5.    Meanwhile in June 1995 the Council and the European Parliament called for a fundamental review of Community water policy. This was to a large degree a reaction to the wave of new legislative proposals (there are now over 25 Directives or Decisions covering inland and coastal waters[7]) and the fact that they coincided with the implementation periods of the Nitrates Directive and (with its high associated costs) the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. The Commission responded with a discussion document, in the form of a Communication on water policy[8], which inter alia recommended the making of a framework Directive. The present proposals are the outcome of consultation on that document.


  6.    The Commission's proposals are summarised in the Explanatory Memorandum by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), reproduced in Appendix 3[9]. They are designed to address the four main objectives of a sustainable water policy identified in the Communication-provision of drinking water, provision of water for other economic requirements, protection of the environment and alleviation of the impact of floods and droughts-and to provide a common framework for the protection of surface and ground waters. The Commission's Explanatory Memorandum goes on to say that, of those four objectives, protection of the environment should be the principal one and that prevention and alleviation of floods or droughts should not come directly within the ambit of the Directive.

  7.    The overall purpose of the Directive (as stated in Article 1) is the protection of aquatic ecosystems (and the water needs of terrestrial ecosystems) and the promotion of sustainable use of water resources. The Commission envisages that the Directive will provide an overall framework within which the Community, national and regional authorities can develop integrated and coherent water policies; provide a mechanism for identifying further issues requiring attention; provide for data collection and analysis to underpin action; and ensure transparency through consultation and public access to information. The Directive would also rationalise the existing body of Community water legislation by repealing and subsuming various Directives or otherwise providing a framework within which the remaining ones would fit.   8.    The proposals envisage the establishment of river basin districts, with designated competent authorities charged with the tasks of assessing the characteristics of their basins, monitoring the status of surface and ground waters in them, drawing up (in the form of River Basin Management Plans) programmes of measures for achieving environmental objectives, and conducting public consultation. Fundamental to the Directive is the prevention of deterioration in water quality and the establishment of environmental objectives-to be reached by 2010-for all surface and ground waters across the Community. The aim is that (with some provision for derogations) all waters should be brought to (or maintained at) "good status". For surface waters this is defined by reference to good "chemical" and "ecological" status; for ground waters by good "chemical" and "quantitative" status. Some broad definitions of these terms are included in the Directive, but the Commission proposes that further elaboration of statuses should be delegated to a Management Committee (set up under Article 25) once the Directive has been adopted. Among the other requirements of the Directive are that there should be mechanisms for recovering, through charges, the full costs of providing water services and that charges should also "where appropriate" cover environmental and resource costs, with the proviso that Member States can permit a lower level of cost recovery to ensure that basic household uses remain affordable.

1   House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities: Bathing Water, 1st Report, Session 1994-95, HL Paper 6; Bathing Water Revisited, 7th Report, 1994-95, HL Paper 41; Drinking Water, 4th Report, 1995-96, HL Paper 31.  Back

2   See Q 2. Back

3   Full Official Journal references to the various Directives mentioned in this section are given in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Commission's proposals (COM (97) 49 final). Back

4   Council Resolution of 25 February 1992, OJ No C 59, 6 March 1992, p 2. Back

5   The Action Programme was adopted in 1996 but concluded that the Groundwater Directive should be replaced by relevant provisions in the proposed framework Directive.  Back

6   See Footnote 1 above. Back

7   Institute for European Environmental Policy, Manual of Environmental Policy: the EC and Britain, ed. Nigel Haigh, chapter 4. Back

8   COM (96) 59 final, 21 February 1996. Back

9   Because of its length it has not been practicable to reproduce the Commission's document with this Report. Back

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