European Commission - Press release
Environment: Commission asks Germany to apply cost recovery obligations to all water services
Brussels, 29 September 2011 - The European Commission is asking Germany to comply with EU water legislation. The Commission is concerned with Germany's interpretation of the key notion of water services, which could lead to inadequate cost recovery and water pricing under German law. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is sending a reasoned opinion. If Germany fails to reply within two months, the Commission may refer the case to the European Court of Justice.
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.
Germany 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 also includes water abstraction for the cooling of industrial installations and for irrigation in agriculture; the restriction of surface waters for navigation purposes, flood protection or hydro power production; and wells drilled for agricultural, industrial or private consumption. According to the Commission, Germany's exclusion of these activities from water services hinders the full and correct application of the Water Framework Directive.
Germany has two months to respond, after which the Commission may refer the case to the European Court of Justice. The Commission is currently investigating similar concerns in other Member States and will propose appropriate action if required.
The Water Framework Directive, which came into force in 2000, provides a framework for integrated water management in river basin districts across the European Union. It obliges Member States to protect and restore all bodies of ground water and surface water (rivers, lakes, canals and coastal water) to achieve "good status" by 2015 at the latest.