The European Commission has proposed a revision to the 20 year old Drinking Water Directive in order to improve the quality of drinking water, modernise the approach to monitoring water quality and provide both greater access to water and information to citizens. The proposals on access to water include an obligation on Member States to set up and maintain drinking water fountains in public spaces.
The right to water and reducing plastic bottles
The proposals respond to: a call for action on the right to water from over one million EU citizens ("European Citizens' Initiative"); a desire to reduce the number of plastic bottles in the environment; and commitment to the relevant UN Sustainable Development Goal.
Issue can be tackled more effectively at national level
However, the Committee does not believe that it is an area where EU action is required as the issue can be better tackled at the national and local levels (the principle of "subsidiarity"). It raises the following specific concerns:
- It sees no compelling reason why the decision of one Member State to improve universal access to drinking water and promote its use would have a deleterious effect on neighbouring Member States or on the EU's internal market.
- The Commission fails to provide any explanation in its proposal or the accompanying impact assessment as to the necessity of action at EU level to improve access to drinking water or the greater benefit of acting at EU level. Referring to the European Citizen's Initiative and the Sustainable Development Goals explains the rationale but does not explain compliance with subsidiarity.
- Noting that both the Commission and the Government point in their respective subsidiarity analyses to the margin of discretion afforded to Member States in their implementation of the article, the Committee draws particular attention to the requirement that Member States set up outdoors and indoors water fountains in public spaces and does not believe that this allows much room for discretion. The Committee does not therefore agree that the access to water provisions strike the right balance between any action which might be deemed necessary at EU level and action best left to Member States.
- It is concerned that the Commission has not complied with the requirement in the Treaty's Subsidiarity Protocol to provide a detailed assessment of subsidiarity substantiated by quantitative and qualitative "indicators", which would ideally include both the cost of installing water fountains and any savings from reduced plastic waste.
Issuing a Reasoned Opinion against the proposal
For these reasons the Committee has recommended that the House considers whether to issue a Reasoned Opinion against the proposal, based on the subsidiarity principle, which requires that the EU should only legislate if Member States themselves cannot sufficiently achieve the policy in question and it can be better achieved by the EU in terms of both scope and impact. As the deadline for issuing such an Opinion is 3 April, this report is being issued urgently.