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Environment Council DWD policy debate

Introduction by the Bulgarian Presidency

The Bulgarian Presidency opened the public session on the policy debate on the DWD, recalling how the work on this dossier has progressed in the Council: the Bulgarian Presidency compromise text was in fact discussed on 24 May.

Statement by the European Commissioner Vella

The Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, recalled the aims of the European Commission proposal: safety of drinking water for the 21st century, high protection of health, enhancement of transparency and improved access. On the issue of access, the EU needs to show that it acts in the interest of the citizens and is able to respond to citizens’ concerns. Vella also explained the Commission’s approach on materials and products in contact with drinking water: the CEN mandate was developed and technical experts and MS regulators will be included, building on the 4 MS work. He also ensured that Commissioner Bieńkowska (DG GROW) will give priority to develop the standards under the CPR. These standards will be under constant review and innovation will be picked up by the proposed systems, through delegated acts under CPR.

Vella warned that insisting on different solutions will jeopardise the agreement on this directive and on the introduction of the Risk-Based Approach (which is a weak argument from the Commission’s side since the RBA is already in place in some Member States since it is an option under the current DWD). He hoped for a first reading agreement.

Discussion on materials and products in contact with drinking water (art.10 of the current DWD, deleted in the European Commission’s proposal):

The Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Malta, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Ireland, Estonia and the UK expressed concerns over the Commission approach based on regulation through the Construction Products Regulation. The CPR has an important role to play, but does not cover all products. Luxembourg warned against the very long and uncertain timelines under the CPR process. The DWD (or an equivalent piece of legislation) must establish EU-wide requirements, similarly to what happened under the food contact materials legislation.  

Germany, France, Luxembourg and Slovenia particularly stressed the importance to act now under the DWD to fill the loophole under the current directive. The deletion art.10 is not acceptable as trying to solve the issue through the CPR would be inefficient and impractical. The 4MS initiative was considered a good substantial basis to work further. Luxembourg spoke in favour of a positive list.

Belgium expressed its doubts about the regulation only through the CPR, but has not adopted a final position yet. It is waiting for the input by the 4 MS consisting on: a general framework under the DWD, with specific requirement set via delegated acts under the DWD, while recognising the specific role of the standards for products under the CPR.

Denmark did not reach a final position yet on which instrument is best, the DWD or the CPR to regulate the issue of materials and products, but the starting point should be the consumers’ protection.

Finland, Greece and Sweden expressed the need to grant MS the possibility to set more stringent requirements when regulating materials under the DWD (which the CPR would not allow). 

Croatia made clear that human health protection must take precedence over internal market consideration and Spain insisted to look at the risks all over the water cycle.

Romania and Sweden would support a compromise capable of strengthening the internal market and of protecting public health.

Latvia supported the European Commission approach to tackle the issue under the CPR.

Discussion on the Access to water (art.13 of the Commission proposal):

The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland and the UK called for the application of subsidiarity. Slovenia also raised doubts about the opportunity to regulate the issues of access (that it is enshrined in the Slovenian Constitution) at EU level and would support mentioning the access in the recitals. Belgium suggested a recommendation and an action plan at the EU level, without setting obligations for MS, but just an encouragement.

More room for flexibility in art.13 at MS level was asked by Finland, Lithuania, Romania, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Malta and Slovakia. 

Belgium, Latvia, Czech Republic, Croatia and Sweden thought that the DWD is not the correct legal instrument to address the access to water.

Finland, Germany, Latvia, Croatia and Czech Republic thought that the UNECE Water and Health protocol (national programme and target setting within its framework) represent the most appropriate tool to deal with the issue of equitable access.

Sweden, Italy, the UK Spain and Poland pointed at the importance of increasing access to tap water in public spaces while limiting plastic bottles consumption. Building on that, the Portuguese Minister suggested serving tap water rather than bottled water in the Council meetings.

Spain, France, Portugal and Luxembourg supported the inclusion of art.13. Spain and France referred essential national approaches to be put in place when addressing social aspects in order to set priorities and actions at national and local level. 

Greece wished to limit the provision on access to art.13.1 while calling for ensuring affordability. 

Italy went further, by proposing the amendment of art.1 to include access within the objectives of the DWD while in art. 13 it would welcome broadening the categories to include poverty and social exclusion. 

Other topics raised by Ministers:

In the various interventions, Ministers addressed other topics such as:

  • The creation of an EU-data base on pesticides (suggested by Slovakia).
  • To ensure the public ownership of surface water and groundwater and ensure public monitoring of private entities involved in the governance of water resources (underlined by Italy).
  • Finland and Germany welcomed the link between the WFD-DWD, but more work is needed to avoid overlaps.
  • The RBA should better follow the WHO Water Safety Planning as well as the WHO recommendations when it comes to the parameters. If some of the parameters do not pose a threat to human health according to the WHO they should be taken out. The UK reiterated that by saying that if it is decided to go beyond the WHO recommendations, a clear justification is needed.
  • Denmark said that its priority on the DWD is the focus on energy efficiency and leakage reduction.

France and Luxembourg stated their support to the upcoming Presidencies for an agreement as soon as possible.

Concluding remarks by Commissioner Vella

Vella take-home messages were that the revision is an opportunity not to be missed. He noted that on the issue of access more legislative instruments were considered. He welcomed the input on materials in contact with drinking water: the Commission is ready to work on technical issues. He wanted a directive which is future-proof and for this it cannot get stuck. He was also pleased to see the Council commitment to high quality drinking water and found that progress is feasible.  

 

Carla. Water matters. EU matters. 

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