The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) welcomes the Commission's proposal aimed at updating the Drinking Water Directive and largely endorses its structure, objectives and measures. The Committee is pleased to note that for the first time a legislative process that started with a European Citizens' Initiative is being brought to completion, broadly in keeping with the aims of that initiative. The Committee also points out that more than 99% of EU drinking water complies with the existing Directive 98/83/EC.
In line with its previous opinions, the EESC regrets that the proposal for a directive stops short of explicitly recognising the universal right of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, as called for by the Right2Water ECI and included in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The EESC considers the model proposed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), based on minimum quantities of water per person per day, to be a viable option. It important to maintain a holistic approach to this issue integrating the legislation on sustainability and the circular economy, as well as the environmental, economic and social dimensions. The EESC is in favour of introducing measures requiring Member States to facilitate access to drinking water for vulnerable groups and people living in isolated locations, in disadvantaged or peripheral rural areas. In line with the subsidiarity principle, the detailed implementation of the measures should, however, be made in agreement with the Member States.
The EESC is pleased to see that the precautionary and polluter pays principles have been adopted and supports the roll-out of communication campaigns to encourage wider, more informed use of public water; it recommends that all available instruments be used and not solely online tools.
The EESC recognises that the directive introduces significant new elements in terms of monitoring and the transparency of information. However, in order to increase consumer awareness of the importance of drinking tap water, it recommends that the information conveyed be clear and easily understandable. The EESC underlines the important role of SMEs in the water distribution. In order to avoid bureaucratic burden for SMEs, roles must be proportionate.
The EESC is concerned about the fact that the increased costs involved in stepping up monitoring and in modernising and upgrading the network may be passed on solely to the end consumer and will not also be shared between public administrations and supply companies.
The EESC calls on Member States to introduce adapted water charges for less well-off citizens, those living below the poverty line and those living in disadvantaged rural areas. At the same time, the Committee recommends measures to discourage the use disproportionate amounts of water, thereby promoting appropriate behaviour instead. This should also apply to industrial and agricultural usage, of water.