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European Commission, domestic water charges and reports in the Irish media Q&A #Right2Water

News item

Saturday 9 Jul 2016

Letter from Nessa Childers to Commissioner Vella, regarding recent briefings reported by Irish Journalists regarding domestic water charges in Ireland.  His reply is posted below.

From: CHILDERS Nessa [mailto:nessa.childers@europarl.europa.eu]
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2016 5:33 PM
Subject: Clarification request: answers provided to Irish MEPs vs. briefings to journalists in context of WFD

Dear Commissioner Vella,

I am writing to you with concern and to seek your clarification as to the reliability of recent briefings reported by Irish Journalists from sources within the Commission. These recent briefings related to questions regarding the introduction of domestic water charges by the Irish Government.

While a number of Irish MEPs, including myself, have tabled questions to the European Commission seeking clarification regarding national policy on water charges and relevant EU legislation, the replies we receive are in contrast to the definite private briefings being provided to Irish journalists.

For example, the Irish journalists have reported that they have been told by sources within the Commission that the Irish government will be in breach of the Water Framework Directive if the government rolls back on a policy to introduce household charges for water consumption and waste water. But when you examine the recent written answers to our questions to the Commission there are no such definitive statements. The private briefings are being widely repeated across Irish print and broadcast media.

It would appear that sources within the commission are briefing journalists with political opinions to the Irish MEPs questions about water charges rather than providing information on EU directives. While the commission may believe that direct consumption charges is best practice, the Water Framework Directive allows for alternative approaches to water conservation.

My concern is firstly to work towards establishing a sustainable way to manage water in Ireland that has the support of the general population, but also to ask why the commission has decided to brief journalists while providing MEPs with written replies to questions that could be interpreted in a number of different ways.

In order to ensure equality of information, I believe you or your representative should meet with Irish MEPs as soon as possible.  We need this meeting to clarify the actual legal situation once and for all, and also to explain the briefings to Irish Journalists.

But this situation goes beyond a particular policy area. Providing one briefing to journalists while providing vague or empty responses to written questions is not an ideal way for the Commission to work with Members of the European Parliament.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Nessa Childers MEP

European Parliament
60, Rue Wiertz
B-1047 Brussels

 From: Karmenu.VELLA@ec.europa.eu [Karmenu.VELLA@ec.europa.eu]
Sent: 08 July 2016 12:09
Subject: RE: Clarification request: answers provided to Irish MEPs vs. briefings to journalists in context of WFD

Dear Ms Childers,

Thank you very much for your e-mail of 7 June concerning the information provided to Irish MEPs and journalists in the context of the Water Framework Directive.

The European Commission strives to communicate consistent messages to MEPs, journalists and other stakeholders. However, it cannot be held accountable for the interpretation of information by the media.

The Commission services are open to a meeting with Irish MEPs and ready to answer their questions on article 9 of the Water Framework Directive. The Water unit of the Directorate-General for Environment is in contact with Ms. Lynn Boylan and will set up a meeting with her and other interested MEPs at the earliest possible date.

Please note that on 24 June, the Commission approved a reply to EP question P-4707/16 by MEP Harkin, which should further clarify the situation.

Yours sincerely,

Karmenu Vella