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Water services and why a broad definition under the WFD is needed to ensure the polluter pays principle

Sarolta Tripolszky

elni Review 2012, Issue 2,  pp. 59-62.

'Water services' is a term under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) that describes economic activities which make use of water infrastructure that changes the physical characteristic of a water body. Economic actors who make use of water in this way are asked to come up for all or part of the costs and thus contribute to the achievement of good water status - the objective of the WFD. 
However many European member states have applied a narrow definition of the term in their national legislation and restricted water services to the traditional water service sectors: wastewater treatment and municipal drinking water supply, leaving agriculture, mining, hydropower or navigation aside. Because of the narrow definition of this legal term the wrong economic policies are applied to water users resulting in a poor allocation of natural and financial resources. This goes against the very essence of the WFD which was adopted to start a new area in which all human pressures on water are dealt within a single framework and in which the polluter has to pay. The involvement of all relevant sectors and application of wise economics is crucial for the timely implementation of the WFD. In turn, this is essential for the European society and economy in view of the predicted increase in pressure on water in the future. 
EEB and WWF started a collective complaint against 11 member states in 2006 to enforce the correct implementation of the Directive. A decision by the European court of Justice is expected in the fall of 2012. In this article the author explains the concept of the term 'water services' and outlines the economic and legal consequences of a narrow and broad definition. The development of the collective (or strategic) complaint from 2006 till today is also described.

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