The Deputy has asked a series of questions of fundamental importance. We are indeed here on behalf of our Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, who is in charge of environmental, fisheries and maritime affairs. We officially represent the European Commission and are not here in a private capacity. The Commission appreciates the findings of, and the process and analysis performed by, the expert committee. One might wish to be more nuanced about various recommendations but it is not our purpose, at this stage of the deliberation in Ireland, to act as a review body for the recommendations of the expert committee. We need to leave room for the experts to exchange views and for politicians to discuss the issues with the public and to deliberate. It is not the role of the European Commission to act as a professor who reviews the debate at every stage. We are a public authority, entrusted with specific competences, but we also have to pay attention to the principle of subsidiarity and there is room for the application of subsidiarity when applying the EU water framework directive.
When making a deliberation about the new system the Irish authorities should have a careful look at the broad picture. What is Ireland's situation in terms of the provisions and quality of water services and access to services for all citizens? Which are the positive and less positive sides of the water system in Ireland? We have drawn the attention of the Irish authorities to a few serious shortcomings, such as the 45% leak rate. This is significant and was also mentioned by representatives of Irish Water.
In addition, in a large number of agglomerations the secondary and tertiary treatment of urban wastewater is not appropriate to a significant extent. Also, the need for investment in modernising the system, bringing it up to speed and making it able to expand and to provide ever finer services for a society in development are fairly significant, amounting to €13 billion. The solution that must be developed must allow for the consistent appropriate funding over a longer period of time of a system in dire need of upgrading and modernisation.
The formula that is developed is, first and foremost, in the hands of the Irish authorities but I would also draw the committee's attention to the following because it has asked about the charge for excessive usage. We believe that one cannot discuss only such a charge and one needs to discuss also the charge for normal use. One needs to define the objective parameters based on objective criteria on the basis of which one can establish what means normal use. We would draw the committee's attention also to the fact that when one speaks about normal and excessive, one needs to have a reference, that is, what would be the reference, tool or instrument that would allow any careful public authority to identify who is consuming excessively and who is consuming normally on the ground. We believe that this brings into the discussion the problem of metering. We note that good progress was made in past years by the Irish authorities, in particular, by Irish Water, in advancing the problem of metering.
We are also aware of the public sensitivities and the concerns, and even protests, that have been expressed in Irish society against this and this is why we appreciate so much the reflection time and discussion that is being organised by the Irish authorities. We believe that the discussion, if possible, can be run also based on objective arguments. No public discussion is only based on objective arguments and only on facts and figures. Emotions are also at stake and reactions and subjective aspects are hugely at stake as well, but there must be a grain of truth and some objective elements at the basis of it. There must be an awareness that when discussing charges, as a short-cut we say, "water charges", in fact, it is not about charges for the water itself but for the water services which every citizen must enjoy to the protection of his or her health.
Of course, there is plenty of water in Ireland. It rains a lot and the ground of Ireland is also rich in water resources, but few drink water straight from the collection of rainwater. Nobody uses a straw to drink water from the ground. One needs abstraction. One needs processing, filtration and elimination of carcinogenic elements. We are aware that ever more chemical substances are identified as having carcinogenic potential or are simply damaging to human health and the providers of water services must be able to identify, select and eliminate from the water provided such substances. The adequate processing of urban wastewater treatment is ever more important for the economy and for the society as well. Drinking water, as I have mentioned, and also other elements, such as compliance with the Nitrates Directives and the relationship with agricultural activities, may come into play. I say "the relationship with agricultural activities" because there must be no opposition between the concerns for water quality and agricultural activities. Solutions are possible in order to reconcile both interests.
The distinguished Deputy asked me also about the infringement procedures. Certainly nobody would authorise a civil servant to say whether Ireland or whatever member state would be in infringement if it proceeds in one way or another simply because this is a prerogative of the political college of the Commission and I cannot anticipate the judgment. Of course, there is a political judgment, but it will be based on objective elements. I can tell the committee, because this is no matter of secrecy and no matter of discretion, there are objective elements to say that currently Ireland is not complying with the Water Framework Directive since it suspended the application of the water charges. We believe also that as the situation evolves on different fronts of the water infrastructure, the situation becomes tighter and tighter. There are such objective elements to making such a decision.
I am bound by the committee to be honest and draw its attention to certain matters. In the public perception, matters get mixed up. People say that if one sends a member state to the Court of Justice then this is for fines. The first judgment of the Court of Justice that will declare a member state in violation of a certain rule of EU law is not a judgment that applies fines. The member state will have 18 months from that judgment in order to present a programme of compliance and to comply with that judgment in principle, and only a second referral by the European Commission of that member state to the Court of Justice in Luxembourg will lead to fines. Therefore, there is time before fines are applied and we believe it is in the vital interest not only of Ireland and of Irish society but of any member state, not to waste time and to litigate with the Damocles sword of the fines at the end of the road but rather to think about and act on complying.
Of course, sometimes solutions are easier at hand. Other times a situation is more complex and more delicate, and more investments are required or certain deliberations are more difficult. The Commission, not because it is warm-hearted but because it is its obligation to do so, understands these realities and understands the differences between the member states. There is a single line or thread for all member states, but there are also national specificities. We are ready to engage with the Irish authorities on any compliance path and commitment leading to lasting solutions to the water infrastructure that serve the Irish citizen. I will stop there.