Citizens to foot the bill for the river polluters, say environmental NGOs | WWF

Citizens to foot the bill for the river polluters, say environmental NGOs

Posted on 17 July 2006
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Brussels, Belgium – The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and WWF, on behalf of 17 national environmental organisations, have submitted a complaint to the European Commission asking to open an infringement procedure against eleven EU Member States for failure to correctly apply the EU Water Framework Directive. Environmental NGOs say that if the ‘polluter pays’ principle continues not to be applied, citizens will have pay the whole bill and the main goal of the directive – good ecological status of all European waters by 2015 – will not be achieved.

The countries concerned by the complaint are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Poland, Sweden and The Netherlands.

The Water Framework Directive requires EU countries to assess what proportion of water service costs (abstraction and discharge, dams, dykes, transfers), including environmental damage and resource loss, are paid for by water users (households, navigation, hydropower, industry and agriculture among others). The Directive obliges countries to adequately distribute those costs using the "polluter pays" principle. This principle provides essential incentives to reduce environmental damage and generate the money required to achieve the directive's environmental objectives.

However, eleven Member States have limited the economic appraisal to public drinking water supply and waste water treatment or collection, thus excluding infrastructures such as dams, weirs and dykes serving hydropower, navigation, agricultural irrigation and drainage and flood defence. This leads to a situation where many infrastructures already identified as a major environmental problem, will be exempted from any transparent economic assessment and citizens, who already pay substantial water prices, could be charged even higher prices to cover for the damage caused by businesses.

“EU leaders have committed again and again to promoting economic instruments in order to tackle the decline of our natural resources, but they don’t seem to bother and at least correctly apply relevant laws. Most authorities exclude water activities which are major environmental problems and often heavily subsidised, from being defined as ‘water services’ and consequently from exposing their financial and environmental costs”, said Stefan Scheuer, Policy Director at EEB.

The complaint refers to the situation of some of the last rivers with outstanding natural value in Europe, such as Vistula in Poland; Danube in Germany, Austria and Hungary; Elbe in Germany, Kemijoki in Finland and Shannon in Ireland.

“It is the first time that we submit a complaint of such scale. Countries like France and Latvia have shown that doing much better is possible, so we expect the European Institutions to act swiftly and do everything in their powers to ensure the correct application of the directive”, added Sergey Moroz, Water Policy Officer at WWF.

According to the EU Treaty, the European Commission can open an infringement procedure against EU Member States following a complaint from citizens and NGOs.

Notes to the editors:
• This press release and related material is available on www.panda.org/epo and www.eeb.org
• The complaint is submitted by EEB and WWF on behalf of 17 national environmental organisations: UWD (Austrian Environmental Umbrella Association); Wassernetz Niedersachsen/Bremen c/o BUND, Germany; NABU, Germany; Bund Naturschutz in Bayern e.V., Germany; Grüng Liga e.V., Germany; WWF Hungary; Stichting Reinwater, Netherlands; WWF Sweden; Bond Beter Leefmilieu Vlaanderen v.z.w, Belgium; Stichting Natuur en Milieu, Netherlands; Finnish Association for the Conservation of Nature; WWF Poland; Danish Society for Nature Conservation; An Taisce - National Trust for Ireland; Freiburger Arbeitskreis Wasser im BBU, Germany; Estonian Green Movement; WWF France.
• The complaint refers to the following areas: Vistula in Poland; Shannon in Ireland; the Danube in Germany, Austria, Hungary; Elbe, Ems, Weser, Middle and Upper Rhine, in Germany; Meuse and Rhine Delta in the Netherlands; Sweden (all country report); Scheldt in Belgium; Gulf of Finland; Arhus Amdt water district in Denmark; East Estonia Basin.
• The infringement procedure should be based on the non-compliance with Article 5 of the Water Framework Directive stating that “[…]Each Member State shall ensure that for each river basin district or for the portion of an international river basin district falling within its territory […] an economic analysis of water use is undertaken according to the technical specifications set out in Annexes […] III […]”.
• Water services are defined in the Water Framework Directive as: “all services which provide, for households, public institutions or any economic activity: abstraction, impoundment, storage, treatment and distribution of surface water or groundwater, waste-water collection and treatment facilities which subsequently discharge into surface water.”
• The Member States concerned by this complaint have reported major environmental problems arising from infrastructures and river maintenance works excluded by the economic assessment – contributing to about 50% of surface waters failing to achieve a good ecological status as required by the Water Framework Directive by 2015.

For further information:
Stefan Scheuer, EU Policy Director
European Environmental Bureau
Tel: +32 (0)2 289 1304
Mobile: +32 (0)496 25 86 82
Email: stefan@eeb.org

Sergey Moroz, Water Policy Officer
WWF European Policy Office
Tel. +32 (0)2 7400923
Email: smoroz@wwfepo.org