The European Commission is attempting to move the goalposts concerning the issue of water charges in Ireland by giving contradictory responses to questions from members of the European Parliament.
This was stated by independent MEP Marian Harkin when she slated the European Commission for issuing confusing messages and, in the process, misrepresenting the position governing water charges in Ireland. She said- “The European Water Framework Directive lays down the rules on charging domestic consumers for water. It contains a derogation put there specifically for Ireland that, in line with ‘established practices,’ a member state may decide not to impose water charges for certain users including for domestic purposes.”
She referred to a Commission response to a question which indicated that the ‘established practices’ were in fact decided when the Directive came into force as far back as 2003. She pointed out that subsequently in 2010 the Irish government signalled its intention to introduce water charges in its first River Basin Plan and charges were subsequently introduced in 2014. “However, in a recent response from the European Commission the goal posts were moved and they now say that ‘established practice’ in fact relates to 2010 when the government introduced its plans,” she said.
She pointed out that this response totally contradicted the first reply which was clear and unequivocal about the timing which is2003. “This unfortunately shows us that that the European Commission has learned nothing and are trying to force water charges in Ireland by making it up as they go along,” Marian Harkin said.
The Independent MEP stressed that the Commission should know better as it lost a case in the European Court of Justice when it took the German Government to court for not charging for water. “That judgment clearly states that the Directive gives Member States the flexibility to charge or not to directly charge for water,” she said.
She continued:-“Furthermore, and most importantly, Ireland still has to submit its second River Basin Plan in which it can activate the derogation for water charges. This has been confirmed by the Commission which stated; ‘should Ireland wish to rely on the provisions of article 9 (4) in the second River Basin Plan a justification needs to be included in the plan.’ Crucially they also state that this needs to be reflected ‘in the draft plan so that the public can effectively comment thereon.’”
There was an immediate need to focus on this issue, she emphasised because, as of now the Government was refusing to avail of the derogation and erroneously saying that the European Commission would not allow it. “This is the European Commission and the Government being two faced and, if the Government doesn’t act now, we could find ourselves in a situation that water charges will be imposed with the Commission entitled to say that the Irish Government did not seek a derogation,” she said.
In this situation, there would not be any justification for the Irish Government attempting to blame Brussels when the power to implement policy existed in their own hands- it’s a matter of use it or lose it, Independent MEP Marian Harkin concluded.