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European Commission - Press release

Environment: Commission asks Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden to recover costs of all water services

Brussels, 27 October 2011 – The Commission is concerned that Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden have incorrectly implemented the concept of water services as described in EU water legislation – leading to inappropriate water pricing. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is sending the Member States a reasoned opinion to ask them to adjust their national legislation accordingly. If the countries fail to reply within two months, the Commission may refer the cases 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.

Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are 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.

Next Steps

Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden have 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 communications to Germany, Austria, Estonia, Hungary and the Netherlands on their misinterpretation of water services.


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.

Further information

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Contacts :

Joe Hennon (+32 2 295 35 93)

Monica Westeren (+32 2 299 18 30)

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