96% of Europe's coastal waters are clean enough for people to bathe in, says the Commission in its annual report published ahead of the bathing season. But some member states have been cheating, it warns.
The Commission's annual report on the state of Europe's bathing waters is generally upbeat with 96% of coastal bathing sites considered clean under the EU's bathing waters directive, which dates back to 1976.
But the report came with a warning about member states' increasing tendency to remove beaches from the official lists, a practice that the Commission says is used "to mask pollution problems and artificially improve compliance results".
The 2006 report is even less encouraging for inland freshwater bathing sites, with compliance rates falling to 85.6%, down from 89.4% in 2004 and 92.4% in 2003.
In April this year, the Commission launched legal action against eleven member states (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden), for removing a total of 7,000 bathing sites from their official lists to escape EU legislation.
"Removal of bathing sites from the official lists should be properly and individually explained and should not be a response to pollution problems," the Commission said, adding that explanations for the removal of previously recognised bathing sites were currently lacking.
A updated version of the bathing waters directive was agreed in January this year. It will apply as of 2015 (EurActiv 20 Jan. 2006).