As MEPs had wanted, the scope of the directive was broadened so that its aim will now be to protect groundwater "against pollution and deterioration" and not only "against pollution" as Council had proposed in its common position. This point was important to Parliament, as groundwater is the most sensitive and, in many regions, the largest source of public drinking water.
In another key point of the agreement, Parliament successfully demanded that Member States be required to take "all measures necessary to prevent inputs into groundwater of any hazardous substances" and not merely "all measures necessary to aim to prevent" this type of pollution, as the Council wanted. These "hazardous substances" include cyanide, arsenic, biocides and phytopharmaceutical substances, which are listed in an annex to the framework directive on water adopted on 23 October 2000. Any change to the list of hazardous substances will henceforth have to be decided under codecision, as laid down in the new decision on comitology.
To ensure consistency with other Community directives which deal with water, pollution by nitrates used in farming will not be covered by the groundwater directive. The limit value of 50mg/l for nitrate pollution, as laid down in the 1991 directive on nitrates, will therefore continue to apply. However, since protecting groundwater, especially against pesticides, will require changes in some farming practices which could entail a loss of income, MEPs successfully pushed for the CAP regulation on rural development to provide special aid in such cases.
With the exception of pesticides, the text approved by the Parliament delegation does not impose single standards at EU level but seeks to harmonise methods for measuring potential pollutants. The regulation will not prevent Member States keeping or introducing stricter protection measures, especially in safeguard zones, which could be extended to the entire territory of a Member State.
The conciliation agreement reached with the Council was approved by Parliament's delegation by an overwhelming majority (16 votes for, none against and 4 abstentions) and can therefore be expected to sail through the plenary.
Environment Committee rapporteur Christa Klass (EPP-ED, DE), who piloted the legislation through Parliament, said "Groundwater is our most important natural resource but over half the bodies of freshwater in the EU are polluted and can never be cleaned up again. This is why we must protect them better".
The rules will have to be reviewed six years after the directive enters into force (i.e. in 2013 if the legislative procedure is completed in 2007) then again every six years. Member States will have two years to transpose the directive into national law. It should therefore take effect from early 2009.