Toward revison of the EU Directive Drinking Water


​Published on April 19, 2018



High-quality drinking water is a resource to which most of those living in the European Union have access: this right is unequalled in many other countries of the world. Thanks to 30 years of legislation on drinking water, the EU continues to ensure safe conditions for human water consumption, basing its policy on three pillars:
  • ensure the quality of drinking water based on the latest scientific data;
  • provide for monitoring, evaluation, and effective and efficient application of resource quality;
  • provide adequate, correct information to consumers on a timely basis.


Through the “Right2Water” initiative fostered by European citizens, the promoters asked the Commission
  • to guarantee that all EU citizens may enjoy the right to water and sanitation;
  • exclude water supply and water resources management from 'internal market rules' and from liberalization;
  • increase efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation worldwide.


The response was a REFIT assessment (1) of Drinking Water Directive 98/83/EC, which confirmed that the directive fulfils its purpose of protecting human health from the harmful effects of possible contamination of "tap water" by supporting its effectiveness and consistency with the object of this people's initiative.


This assessment, however, along with the consultations conducted with sector stakeholders, identified five critical areas susceptible of improvement, i.e.:

  1. failure to update the quality standards;
  2. the existence of an outdated, obsolete approach to the matter;
  3. the fragmentation and excessive number of regulations on the materials in contact with drinking water that actually create an obstacle to the development of the internal market;
  4. the absence of transparency and access to up-to-date information on the part of consumers;
  5. the fact that some two million people still lack access to drinking water (2).

Based on the results, therefore, the EU decided to amend the provisions of 98/83/EC with a new directive proposal presented by the Commission on 1 February 2018. Essentially, it is a “recast”, i.e. an adaptation, of the previous directive, given the numerous regulatory amendments and additions involved.


The new provisions require the Member States to improve access to drinking water for all their citizens and particularly for the more vulnerable, marginal groups, by creating facilities for access to drinking water in public places, launching campaigns of information to the citizens on the quality of accessible water, encouraging the public administrations to provide access to this resource and, lastly, improving the managementand diss emination by local administrations of data on urban waste water and on drinking water. The public administrations will also be induced to pay greater attention to the construction products used in the water sector throughout the EU internal market to reduce the contamination of drinking water.


The objective of the proposal is also to enable the public to readily access information – even online – on the quality and supply of drinking water in their areas of residence and thereby increase trust in their tap water. To that end, the proposed directive will urge water suppliers to provide clearer information to consumers on water consumption, the structure of costs, and price per litre to permit a better, more accurate comparison with bottled water.


As part of the plan to transition toward a circular economy, (3) the proposal also aims to contribute toward the environmental objective of reducing the superfluous use of plastics and limit the EU's carbon footprint, in line with Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Objective 6 regarding the water resource.


With specific reference to plastics, the European Parliament has proposed the elimination from the text of Directive 98/83/EC of the provisions regarding materials that come into contact with drinking water. Actually, the REFIT assessment revealed that Article 10 (4) of the original directive on drinking water has, in fact, helped create strong legislative uncertainty and lack of uniformity among the Member States regarding the requirements and thresholds of concentration of substances and materials used in the treatment and distribution of drinking water.


To eliminate what are considered “obstacles” to the free internal market, the European Parliament decided to assign to the Regulation on Construction Products (5) the task of harmonizing, at the European level, the requirements applicable to the materials and products that come into contact with drinking water.


This standardization, along with a more holistic risk management approach, is intended to keep a high level of competitiveness in the European water sector and stimulate technological innovation, with a focus on the automation techniques for monitoring and reporting on drinking water.


In conclusion, there are two spirits that inspire and characterize the proposal to amend Directive 98/83/EC: on the one hand, it responds to the need for technical updating of the discipline, data, instrument, an approach to the matter of water, making it a source of innovation and also linking it to the Digital Market Strategy developed by the European Commission; on the other, the proposal justifiably reflects the path of international initiatives on development and EU legislation to protect the environment and the inviolable rights of European citizens.



  1. REFIT program of the Commission controlling the adequacy and effectiveness of the regulation ensuring that the EU legislation provide results to the public and to companies effectively, efficiently and a minimal cost.
  2. Source: Executive Summary of the Impact Assessment accompanying the document
    “Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the quality of water intended for human consumption, SVD (2017) 448 final”, page 1.
  3. COM (2015) 614 final.
  4. See below the text of Article 10, which the European Parliament intends to eliminate from the drinking water directive: “Article 10 - Quality assurance of treatment, equipment and materials. “Member States shall take all measures necessary to ensure that no substances or materials for new installations used in the preparation or distribution of water intended for human consumption or impurities associated with such substances or materials for new installations remain in water intended for human consumption in concentrations higher than is necessary for the purpose of their use and do not, either directly or indirectly, reduce the protection of human health provided for in this Directive; the interpretative document and technical specifications pursuant to Article 3 and Article 4 (1) of Council Directive 89/106/EEC of 21 December 1988 on the approximation of laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States relating to construction products shall respect the requirements of this Directive.”
  5. Regulation (EU) no. 305/2011 of the European Parliament and the Council of 9 March 2011 that set harmonized conditions for the marketing of construction products and abrogated Council Directive 89/106/EEC of the Council.


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