Revision of the drinking water directive

In “Environment, Public Health and Food Safety - ENVI”

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For a brief overview of the key points of the adopted text and its significance for the citizen, please see the corresponding summary note.

The 1998 Drinking Water Directive sets quality standards for water intended for human consumption. It requires Member States to monitor the quality of drinking water, while allowing them to set additional requirements leading to higher standards. In 2013, over one million citizens signed the European citizens' initiative 'Right2Water', calling for EU legislation implementing the human right to water and sanitation. As part of the follow-up to the initiative, the Commission carried out an evaluation of the Drinking Water Directive.

In its resolution of 8 September 2015 on the follow-up to the European citizens' initiative, the European Parliament recognised that water is not a commodity but a public good that is vital to human life and dignity and called on the Commission and the Member States to ensure a comprehensive water supply characterised by affordable prices, high quality and fair working conditions and subject to democratic controls.

The Commission adopted its proposal for a revised drinking water directive on 1 February 2018. The proposal seeks to improve water quality by adding new and emerging substances to the list of criteria determining water safety (such as legionella and chlorate). Member States would be required to improve access for all, especially for vulnerable and marginalised groups who currently have difficult access to drinking water. This includes installing equipment for access to drinking water in public spaces. By improving information about the quality of drinking water in their living area, households and restaurants should be encouraged to use tap water instead of bottled water. According to the Commission, reducing consumption of bottled water can help households in Europe to save more than €600 million per year, while at the same time reducing plastic waste.

In the European Parliament, the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) appointed Michel Dantin (EPP, France) as rapporteur and adopted its report on 10 September 2018. A plenary vote took place on 23 October 2018. The Members of the Parliament agreed that the directive should promote universal access to clean water. The requirements should reflect the national situation and conditions of the water suppliers in the Member States. The Parliament maintained most of the parameters set by the Commission, in some cases stricter than those recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The maximum limits for certain pollutants, such as lead as well as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) would be tightened, and new caps introduced for endocrine disruptors. Levels of microplastics should be monitored. Member States should encourage provision of tap water in restaurants for free or for a low service fee. Member States should be required to adopt national targets to reduce water leakage levels. The matter was referred back to the committee responsible for interinstitutional negotiations.

The Council examined the proposal in its Working Party on the Environment. A policy debate was held in Environment council meeting on 25 June 2018. Most ministers pointed out that minimum hygiene requirements for materials that come into contact with drinking water should be set in this directive. Regarding the right to access to water, the principle of subsidiarity should be respected, granting Member States enough flexibility to decide on measures that took into account geographic and cultural circumstances.

The Council reached a general approach at the Environment council on 5 March 2019. According to the Council's position, hygienic requirements for products in contact with drinking water should be set through implementing acts.

With no time for trilogue negotiations before the European elections, the Parliament concluded its first reading on 28 March 2019.

A new rapporteur was appointed at the start of the new legislature. On 25 September 2019 the ENVI Committee decided to open inter-institutional negotiations.

The Parliament and the Council reached a provisional agreement in the trilogues on 18 December 2019. Members States' ambassadors (Coreper) confirmed the agreement on 5 February and the ENVI Committee gave its endorsement on 18 February 2020.

The agreement includes detailed hygienic requirements for materials in contact with drinking water and gives the European Chemicals Agency a key role to ensure that only safe substances can be used in pipes and taps. The updated directive addresses concerns about endocrine disruptors, pharmaceuticals and microplastics by introducing a watch list mechanism. The first watch list will be adopted by 1 year after the entry into force of the directive. 

The confirmation of the political agreement was submitted to the Environment Council meeting on 5 March 2020. After legal-linguistic revision, the Environment Council formally adopted the Council's position at first reading on 23 October 2020. EP's ENVI committee voted on the recommendation for second reading on 1 December and, as a final step, EP Plenary vote was held on 15 December 2020. In accordance with the letter of 18 February 2020 sent by the Chair of the European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety to the Chair of the Committee of Permanent Representatives, the European Parliament approved, at second reading, the Council's position at first reading without amendment.

The directive entered in force on 12 January 2021, and the Member States will have two years to transpose it into national legislation.


Further reading:

Author: Tarja Laaninen, Members' Research Service,

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As of 20/03/2023.