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Commissioner should meet Irish MEPs to clarify legal situation regarding water charges

Press Release

Wednesday 1 Jun 2016

Independent MEP Nessa Childers says European Commission are now replying with political responses to Irish MEPs questions about water charges rather than providing impartial information on EU directives.

“The Irish Government is about to set up a commission on water, and this body will look at our EU obligations. I understand the Minister intends to meet Commissioner Vella as part of this process.

“In advance of this meeting, I am now calling on the Commissioner to meet with Irish MEPs to clarify the actual legal situation once and for all. We need information clearly stated in plain language what are Ireland’s, and other member states obligations regarding domestic water charges.

“The commission in their answers to Lynn Boylan MEP and to my question can at best be described as non-answers. At worst the Commission are getting involved in member state politics.

“I tabled a question in March and received a similar unclear response, I have subsequently tabled a further question in an attempt to get a definitive answer. At the core of the debate around water charges and our obligation under EU Directives is the concept of established practices. In order to assist Ireland in establishing a sustainable way to manage water, that has the support of the general population, we need factual information rather than national policy opinion from the Commission.


Details of Nessa Childers’ recent questions to Commission regarding water charges:

3 May 2016
Question for written answer to the Commission
Rule 130
Nessa Childers (S&D)

 Subject:  Water charges and Article 9 of the Water Framework Directive
Further to its response to Written Questions P-002540/2016 and P-008827/2014, could the Commission answer the following:

1. Does the introduction, by a Member State, of water charges for households with a view to implementing cost recovery and the ‘polluter pays’ principle, in the context of a River Basin Management Plan, necessarily mean, as a matter of legal compliance with the acquis communautaire, that a previously ‘established practice’ of funding without recourse to water charges for households has lapsed in such a way as to bind a Member State to comply with Article 9 of the Water Framework Directive through the specific requirement of cost recovery as a function of individual consumption?
2. Does the choice, by a Member State, of a particular scheme or method of cost recovery under Article 9 of the Water Framework Directive, as part of a River Basin Management Plan, in any way preclude that Member State from reverting to a prior established practice at a future date, or a future River Basin Management Plan, particularly if a Member State government’s policy review entails the discontinuation of water charges based on individual consumption?
3. Does its answer to Written Question P-008827/2014 remain valid in its entirety, at present?


Parliamentary questions
2 May 2016
Answer given by Mr Vella on behalf of the Commission
The Commission would refer the Honourable Member to its answer to Written Question P‐000325/2016(1). Moreover, on the basis of Ireland’s own water business plan(2), the introduction of water charging appears to have been a necessity given that the state of Irish water infrastructure is such that significant investments in drinking and waste water infrastructure of about EUR 5.5 billion by 2021 are necessary to bring Ireland’s water infrastructure and services to an acceptable level.
30 March 2016
Question for written answer
to the Commission
Rule 130
Nessa Childers (S&D)
 Subject:  Compliance with Article 9 of the Water Framework Directive
In its answer of 5 December 2014 to Parliamentary Question P-008827/2014 asking whether, under the Water Framework Directive (WFD), cost recovery for domestic users must be linked to individual consumption, the Commission stated that there is no specific requirement in Article 9 of the WFD for cost recovery to rely on individual consumption, provided the conditions foreseen in the directive are met.However, privately commissioned legal assessments quoted as recently as today claim that Irish Government policy decisions under the remit of the Water Framework Directive — and which predate the Commission’s response above — have entailed a lapsing of ‘established practices’ for the purposes of compliance with the directive by the Irish state, particularly as regards discretion in the application of the provisions of Article 9, foreseen in its paragraph 4.Could the Commission therefore confirm the continued validity of the entirety of its answer of December 2014?More precisely, could the Commission clarify whether, by virtue of any policy developments falling under the remit of the directive since the Commission’s answer above, Ireland does not currently meet the legal conditions for the recovery of costs for water services without relying on individual consumption?