A full 93.1% of the continent’s coastal bathing waters were judged swimmable, while 89.9% of inland waters also met the EEA’s pass grade.
The aggregated figure – 92.1% - was hailed by the environment commissioner Janez Potočnik as a slight improvement over the 2010 figures, although there was also a marginal increase in the share of non‑compliant bathing waters, at 1.8%.
“A clear majority of Europeans are concerned about water quality issues,” Potočnik said in a statement.
“We must therefore continue our work to ensure our waters are appropriate for all legitimate uses – from bathing to drinking - and that the overall aquatic ecosystem is in good health.”
But the EEA’s figures also showed that the quality of coastal bathing waters had declined by 2.5% since the 2009 figures, themselves a fall on the levels of 2008.
A relatively low proportion of sites in EU states such as the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Latvia, Luxemburg and Belgium passed the EU’s watermark, particularly inland waters.
Pollution problems persist
“In several countries there is still a problem with pollution from agriculture and sewage, so we need to see more efforts to ensure safe and clean water for the public,” said Professor Jacqueline McGlade, the director of the European Environment Agency.
In Belgium, the home of the EU, some 5% of sites were awarded ‘non-complying’ or ‘poor’ status by the report, and 9.1% were banned or closed.
In the Netherlands, those figures rose to 10.1% and 0.3%, respectively, while in Luxembourg, a surprising 45% of bathing waters were banned or closed.
The best performing beaches and inland rivers were mostly to be found in Europe’s south, with 11 countries reaching 80% compliance with the EEA’s criteria.
These included: Cyprus (99.1%), Malta (97.7%), Croatia (97.7%), Greece (94.1%), Germany (87.8%), Romania (87.8%), Portugal (84%), Austria (83.5%), Ireland (83%), UK (82.8%), and Italy (82.3%).
The figures for most EU states were compiled according to the 2006 Bathing Water Directive but the Czech Republic, Romania and UK all elected to use the less stringent standards of the a directive dating back to 1976.
By 2015, all EU nations will be obliged to meet the requirements laid out under the 2006 rules.