Good bathing water quality is critically important for Europeans. It plays a large role in helping people to plan holidays and leisure activities. It is therefore also of great importance to Europe's tourism industry, as clean and safe water is a major factor in continuing to attract visitors from all over the world.
To allow citizens to make an informed choice of beach, the European Union (EU) publishes an annual report on the quality of coastal and inland bathing areas, based on data reported by EU Member States and other European countries. Since 2009, the European Environment Agency (EEA) and its European Topic Centre on Inland, Coastal and Marine Waters have prepared the report in cooperation with the European Commission's Directorate-General for the Environment.
This report provides a comprehensive summary of the quality of bathing waters in the Member States of the European Union (as well as in Switzerland and Albania) in the 2014 bathing season. It thus gives an indication of the areas where the quality of bathing water is expected to be good during 2015. The report also shows the evolution of bathing water quality from 1990 to 2014.
There were 21 538 bathing waters identified in Europe in 2014, 21 255 of which were in the 28 EU Member States. Switzerland and Albania have also monitored and reported on the quality of their bathing waters. In addition to coastal bathing sites, 27 countries reported on the quality of their inland bathing sites on lakes and rivers. No inland bathing waters were reported for Albania, Cyprus, and Malta. All 24 countries with access to the sea have monitored and reported data on their coastal bathing waters.
The main message of this report is that in 2014 bathing waters in Europe continued to be of high quality. In 2014, 95.1% of all bathing waters in the EU met the minimum water quality standards set by the Bathing Water Directive. This in an increase of 0.5 percentage points compared with 2013. The proportion of bathing waters assessed as being of excellent quality was 83.3%, an increase of 0.6 percentage points compared with 2013.
The share of bathing waters assessed as being of poor quality in 2014 (i.e. those failing to meet the Bathing Water Directive's minimum standards) dropped to 1.9%. This represents a 0.1 percentage point decrease from the previous season. By the end of the 2015 bathing season (1), all bathing waters should be at least 'sufficient' quality and bathing waters with poor quality will only be accepted unless measures to improve the quality are taken.
Looking solely at coastal bathing waters, 96.8% of these waters met the minimum quality standards established by the Bathing Water Directive, similar percentage to that achieved in the 2013 bathing season. On the other hand, the share of coastal bathing waters with excellent quality in 2014 increased by 0.3 percentage points compared with the previous year, from 85.2% to 85.5%. A small share of coastal bathing waters (1.7%) were assessed as being of poor quality, and therefore did not comply with minimum standards. This represents a 0.2 percentage point decrease from 2013, when 1.9% of coastal bathing waters were of poor quality.
78.2% of inland bathing waters were of excellent quality in 2014, an increase of 1.6 percentage points compared with 2013. In 2014, the share (2.4%) of inland bathing waters of poor quality remained the same as in 2013. However, the longer-term trend in the share of inland bathing waters of excellent quality has been one of growth. The share of bathing waters of excellent quality has been constantly growing since 1991. In 1995, this share accounted for less than 40%. In 1998, it exceeded 60%, and this share was more or less stable until 2011. Since 2010, there has been a remarkable increase in the share of excellent bathing waters; increasing by almost 18 percentage points in this short time.
There are six countries where 90% or more of bathing waters (whether coastal or inland) have reached excellent quality: Croatia, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, and Malta. There are ten countries where all bathing waters are compliant with at least the minimum quality standards: Austria, Cyprus, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
In Europe, there were 409 bathing waters assessed as poor. The three countries with the highest numbers of poor bathing waters are Italy (107 bathing waters or 1.9%), France (105 bathing waters or 3.1%) and Spain (67 bathing waters or 3.1%). The highest rates of bathing waters with poor quality have been found in Estonia (3 bathing waters or 5.6%), Ireland (7 bathing waters or 5.1%), the Netherlands (35 bathing waters or 4.9%), and Sweden (16 bathing waters or 3.6%). Albania reported its bathing water quality data for the first time in 2013. In 2014, only one bathing water (out of 73) did not meet the minimum standards, which is a significant improvement. In 2013, six (8.2%) Albanian bathing waters were assessed as not meeting minimum standards.
Switzerland identified 210 bathing water sites for the 2014 season, an increase of 25.7% compared with the 2013 season. Excellent quality was achieved by 128 (61%) bathing waters while only four (1.9%) were of poor quality. Quality classification of around one third of the Swiss bathing waters was not possible because they were new bathing waters and with not enough samples.