The European commissioner for environment, Margot Wallström presented the latest report on bathing water quality in Europe during a special forum on implementation and enforcement of community environmental law.
The forum brought together representatives of the member states, The European Parliament, The European Environment Agency, NGOs and the press. With this initiative Ms Wallström wishes to promote a constructive exchange of views on implementation shortcomings and on how to build on existing achievements in the member states.
Implementation of EU legislation is a key priority for the Commission. This forum on bathing water quality is the first in a series of similar events on environmental topics.
This is a marginal improvement compared with results in the previous report. Fresh water bathing areas show for the third consecutive year some encouraging results.
While in 1996 1 out of 3 fresh water zones was insufficiently monitored or did not meet the minimum quality requirements, just above 90% of the fresh water bathing areas respected the minimum requirements of the directive during the 1999 bathing season.
When presenting the new report to the public, Ms Wallström said: 'A legal act is only as good as its implementation. EU legislation on Bathing Water has produced results: bathing water quality has progressed considerably over the years. But there is still scope for improvement.
This year's report also shows that member states cannot rest on their laurels. Constant vigilance and effort are necessary to preserve good water quality results from one year to the next.' She added: 'Member states should not only aim for compliance with the minimum requirements of the bathing water directive. They should be more ambitious and put more effort achieving the higher, stricter quality requirements.'
Coastal bathing areas
In recent years the improvement of coastal bathing water quality has been less clear-cut. Further improvement cannot be achieved through local initiatives only. Actions must take account of the 'hinterland', though a more integrated approach to water management.
On average, the mandatory quality of the coastal bathing areas only improves with marginal steps, the compliance rate of the coastal bathing areas in the Union respecting the minimum quality requirements being just over 95%.
Results for individual member states:
Belgium, again reached 100% compliance with the minimum requirements in 1999 after a considerable drop in compliance in 1998 to almost 93%;
Denmark's rate of compliance has dropped for the third consecutive year and stands at a bit under 93% compliance with the minimum requirements;
The coastal bathing areas of Germany show a considerable improvement both in terms of respecting the minimum requirements (93,5% in 1999 compared to 90,9% in 1998) and in respecting the stricter requirements (from 75,1% in 1998 to 82,6% in 1999);
France has not yet communicated any results to the Commission due to an industrial action by the staff responsible for forwarding the information to the central government. Nevertheless, measures to monitor bathing water quality and to protect bather's health were taken throughout the 1999 bathing season;
The Netherlands present a status quo and thus confirm the sustained efforts made by their water managers.
Greece, Spain, Ireland and Italy all muster marginally better results than for the 1998 bathing season;
Portugal has made an appreciable improvement and has for the first time passed the important point of 90% compliance, reaching 93,9% compliance;
Finland and Sweden still seem to struggle with the correct practical implementation of the Directive still with a relatively high number of beaches which are insufficiently sampled, and with compliance just over 90% for Finland and below 85% for Sweden;
The United Kingdom has for the first time passed the important point of 90% compliance.
Fresh water bathing areas
Repeated pleas in previous years for more attention to the vulnerable fresh water bathing areas have produced encouraging results. While during the 1996 bathing season 1 out of 3 fresh water zones was insufficiently monitored or did not meet the minimum quality requirements, now three seasons later, 90% of the fresh water bathing areas respect the minimum requirements of the Directive. The percentage of insufficiently sampled fresh water beaches decreased further to 3,2%. The Commission hopes that the next season will finally show that all freshwater bathing areas will be sufficiently sampled.
Results for individual member states:
Belgium could not confirm the relatively good results of 1998: compliance with the minimum requirements fell with over 4% to 92,3%.
Denmark shows a marginal deterioration and falls back to 89,5% compliance with the minimum requirements.
Germany seem to have recovered from the particularly bad summer of 1998 and has reached 92,4% compliance.
The four inland bathing zones of Greece are all complying with the minimum requirements, but only 1 respects the stricter requirements;
Spain shows again just a marginal improvement, but has banned bathing during the 1999 bathing season in almost 10% of its freshwater zones.
France has not yet communicated any results to the Commission due to an industrial action by the staff responsible for forwarding the information to the central government. Nevertheless, measures to monitor bathing water quality and to protect bather's health were taken throughout the 1999-bathing season.
Ireland remains at 100% compliance for its 9 inland bathing areas.It is for the first time that all inland bathing areas in Italy are sufficiently monitored. There is also an appreciable improvement in overall compliance from 85,8% in 1998 to 94,7% in 1999.
The situation in Luxembourg hasn't changed for the last 6 years and remains at 85% compliance.
Unlike the situation for its coastal waters, the Netherlands seem to have more difficulties to monitor its freshwater zones sufficiently and also 8% remains non-compliant.
Austria has almost reached the same good results when it first appeared in the report: almost 96% of the bathing zones respect the minimum requirements.
The situation in Portugal has improved remarkably from below 20% compliance in 1998 to 78,4% compliance in 1999.
Like for the coastal waters, Finland and Sweden still seem to struggle with correct practical implementation of the Directive, still with a relatively high number of beaches which are insufficiently sampled and with compliance at just over 85% for Finland and close to 81% compliance for Sweden.
The United Kingdom has for the second time presented results for freshwater bathing zones, now for 11 zones. 10 of them respect the minimum requirements.
Despite the encouraging results, a lot still needs to be done for fresh water bathing zones. The Commissioner therefore encourages governments, environmental associations and citizens to put further efforts in improving the quality of fresh water zones.
Now that the majority of coastal bathing waters respect the minimum requirements of the Directive, the Commissioner hopes that Member States will aim at a higher compliance with the stricter guide values.
New elements in the report
The report contains now a section summarising the result for the whole of the EU. Further improvements have been made of the readability of the report and the maps, e.g. listing the bathing areas in alphabetical order and indicating the change in quality for each individual bathing area compared with the previous bathing season.
The Commission hopes that these further improvements will contribute to a more constructive and direct communication between citizens of the bathing zones and the national and regional regulators.
The internet site has been updated and further improved. The bathing water quality site with the most recent results is located at:
The directive on bathing water quality
This directive is the basis on which the European Commission assesses the quality of bathing water in member states. The assessment is made on the basis of 2 microbiological parameters, which are indicators of faecal pollution, and on the basis of 3 physico-chemical parameters, which are so-called aesthetic parameters i.e. does the water look attractive to take a swim. Member states must respect these minimum imperative values that ensure good water quality. In addition, the directive establishes some higher guidelines values, which member states should endavour to respect.
Revision of the directive
Plans to revise the bathing water directive first emerged in 1994. Studies and debates about water quality management were initiated, and the revision will be linked to the forthcoming water framework directive.
The commission will soon publish a communication outlining the principles of a new bathing water directive. This communication will also mark the start of a broader consultation process with all stakeholders. These consultations are intended to culminate in a bathing water conference in the autumn 2000. The commission plans to issue a proposal early in 2001.