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European Commission - Press release
Environment: Commission refers Germany to Court over incomplete cost recovery for water services
Brussels, 31 May 2012 - The European Commission is concerned Germany is not fully applying the principle of cost recovery for water services. Under the Water Framework Directive, Member States must price water in a way that provides an adequate incentive to use it efficiently. Whilst Germany is of the opinion that such cost recovery should apply only to the supply of drinking water and the disposal and treatment of wastewater, the Commission considers that Germany's exclusion of other relevant activities such as hydro-power from the definition of water services hinders the full and correct application of the Water Framework Directive. Therefore, upon the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission has decided to refer the case to the European Court of Justice.
The cost recovery principle for water services is designed to address the need to use water resources efficiently, with proper regard to the consequences for society and the environment. All EU Member States must also ensure that the main categories of water users —households, industry and agriculture — contribute to the recovery of the costs of water services, including the environmental and resource costs of water use, taking the "polluter-pays" principle into account.
Under the Water Framework Directive, water services are a wide notion that includes water abstraction for the cooling of industrial installations and for irrigation in agriculture; the use of surface waters for navigation purposes, flood protection or hydro-power production; and wells drilled for agricultural, industrial or private consumption.
On several occasions, the Commission has asked Germany to change its interpretation of water services to ensure correct application of Article 9 of the Directive; by sending a letter of formal notice to German authorities in November 2007, followed by another in September 2010 and finally a reasoned opinion in September 2011. However at this time Germany has not widened the scope of their interpretation of water services, so the Commission is referring the case to the court.
The Commission is currently investigating similar cases involving water services in seven other Member States — Austria, Belgium (Flanders region), Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Netherlands, Sweden — and will also refer their cases to the Court if they remain unresolved. While an additional case against Ireland is also open, Ireland has now accepted the Commission's broad interpretation and agreed to change its legislation.
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, transitional and coastal water) to achieve "good status" by 2015 at the latest.
For current statistics on infringements in general: