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Local leaders reject liberalisation and competition in water networks  

The European Committee of the Regions has given its support to the new legislative proposal for a revised drinking water directive presented by the European Commission on 1 February 2018. Yet, the Committee reports shortfalls in key aspects. Members request a single EU-wide assessment scheme for materials and products that come into contact with drinking water. On microplastics, cities and regions defend close monitoring as these are a clear health hazard. Members agree that the EU should veto any liberalisation on water distribution and competition on water networks as clean and healthy drinking water is an essential public service. The recast of the Drinking Water Directive is part of the EU Circular Economy Action Plan. It is also a response to Right2Water, the first successful European Citizens' Initiative , presented in December 2013. Almost 2 million citizens requested the European Commission to improve legislation to ensure 'universal access to clean and healthy drinking water as an essential public service'.

The European Committee of the Regions has adopted an opinion on the "Quality of water intended for human consumption" led by rapporteur Mark Weinmeister (DE/EPP), Secretary of State for European Affairs of the Land of Hesse. Speaking at the Plenary, he said: 'Water is essential to sustain life, and providing an adequate, safe and accessible supply is up to local and regional authorities. Access to safe and healthy water to all is the most basic public service provision. That's why we need to be more ambitious and bring the EU Directive in line with the WHO guidelines'.

The EU's assembly of local and regional leaders supports the European Commission proposal as it aims to ensure high-quality drinking water for all consumers in line with the UN Sustainable Goal 6 to 'Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all'.

However, the adopted opinion includes a series of warnings regarding possible problems of implementation that cities and regions want legislators to take into account. The members of the European Committee of the Regions:

  • Do not support the European Commission's proposal to delete indicator parameters which establish health requirements for drinking water with reference to odour, taste and treatment processes from legislation and asks these to be restored.

  • Urge EU legislators to rectify and ensure all consumers benefit from the same level of health protection and quality of drinking water given the fact that the proposed legislation does not apply to suppliers providing less than 10 m3 a day or to less than 50 people unless it is a commercial or public activity.

  • Asks the European Commission to list and define all suppliers covered by the directive irrespective of their size considering that reporting requirements and monitoring frequencies for drinking-water suppliers providing less than 500 m3 per day should be proportionate and effective.

  • Calls for the extent of a breach in the parametric values to determine the health risk, with respect to proportionality and the preventive approach of the WHO and asks the European Commission to set higher parametric values in line with those recommended by the WHO.

  • Asks for the precautionary principle to be reincorporated in the new proposal along with the provisions referring to certain "derogations" for Member States.

  • Notes its concern about the lack of common methodologies for measuring microplastics and determining their health impact.

  • Recalls that the European Commission proposal fails to define the concept of "precautionary benchmark values".

With competencies on water management and distribution for human consumption, local and regional authorities play a key role in providing safe and healthy tap water to all citizens. The new Directive has to provide the framework and mechanisms to support local governments in achieving that goal.

Additional information:

The quality of water intended for human consumption is today governed in the EU by the Directive 98/83/EC . The European Commission adopted on 1 February 2018 a proposal for a revised drinking water directive to improve the quality of drinking water and provide greater access and information to citizens .

Right2Water is the first European Citizens' Initiative having gathered the required number of signatories (at least one million European citizens signatures properly validated in a minimum seven Member States). It was submitted to the Commission on 20/12/2013. Right2Water defends that "EU legislation should require governments to ensure and to provide all citizens with sufficient and clean drinking water and sanitation. The initiative urge to 1. The EU institutions and Member States be obliged to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation. 2. Water supply and management of water resources not be subject to ‘internal market rules’ and that water services are excluded from liberalisation. 3. The EU increases its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation. More information on the initiative.


David Crous | | +32 470 88 10 37