European Commission Asks Ireland to Recover Costs of All Water Services

The European Commission is concerned that Ireland has incorrectly implemented the concept of water services as described in EU water legislation – leading to inappropriate water pricing. The Commission is sending Ireland a reasoned opinion to ask it to adjust its national legislation accordingly.

If Ireland fails to reply within two months, the Commission may refer the case to the European Court of Justice. The Water Framework Directive came into force in 2000, with Ireland’s agreement. Member States had until 2003 to implement its various provisions. The current problem arises from differing interpretations of the rules by Ireland (and five other Member States).

The case is not about domestic water charges. It is to do with the wider cost policy over all users, not just drinking water and sewage systems. The Water Framework Directive is Europe’s key tool for protecting its waters. It establishes a framework for action in the field of water policy. One of the measures to achieve its objectives is the obligation to adopt a cost recovery policy for water services that includes the environmental and resource costs of water use, taking into account the “polluter-pays” principle.

Ireland is of the opinion that cost recovery should apply only to the supply of drinking water and the disposal and treatment of wastewater. The Commission, however, sees water services as a wider notion that includes water abstraction for cooling industrial installations and agricultural irrigation, the impoundment or storage of surface waters for navigation purposes, flood protection or hydro power production, and well drilling for agricultural, industrial or private consumption. The exclusion of these activities from water services hinders the full and correct application of the Water Framework Directive, contributing to inefficient or wasteful use of water. The Directive is also intended to see equity between different water users.

Ireland has two months to comply with the requirements of the Directive, after which the Commission may refer the case to the European Court of Justice. The Commission has similar concerns regarding other Member States and has already issued reasoned opinions to Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Sweden on their misinterpretation of water services.

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