Cyprus, Austria, Greece have EU's cleanest beaches: agency

An aerial view shows a woman on a beach in the Greek island of Chrysi
An aerial view shows a woman on a beach in the Greek island of Chrysi ARIS MESSINIS AFP/File
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Copenhagen (AFP)

Bathing waters at more than four out of five beaches in the European Union are of "excellent" quality, with Cyprus, Austria and Greece topping a European Environment Agency list published on Tuesday.

A total of 82.8 percent of the 22,276 bathing sites studied across Europe in 2020 had "excellent" water quality, while 92.6 percent met the minimun standard, "sufficient".

These figures are about two percentage points below those for 2019, the EEA said, attributing it to a greater number of beaches where no data was collected last year due to the pandemic.

The lack of data mainly affected Poland and Britain, which is still included in the report for 2020 despite Brexit.

Water quality continues to improve in Europe, with only 1.3 percent of sites reporting "poor" water quality, compared to 1.4 percent in 2019 and almost 2 percent in 2013.

Under EU rules, bathing water sites that have been classified as "poor" for five consecutive years are slapped with a permanent ban.

Cyprus was the only country to register a perfect score in the 2020 standings, with 100 percent of its bathing sites boasting "excellent" water quality, ahead of Austria (97.7 pct), Greece (97.1 pct), Malta (96.6 pct) and Croatia (95.1 pct).

They were followed by Germany (89.9 pct), Italy (88.6 pct), Spain (88.5 pct), Belgium (79.7 pct) and France (77.5 pct).

Around two-thirds of bathing sites in the EU are located along sea coasts, which are generally cleaner, and one third are located inland.

According to the EEA, the percentage of European bathing waters achieving at least "sufficient" quality increased from just 74 percent in 1991 to over 95 percent in 2003, and has remained relatively stable since then.

The number of bathing sites in the European Union has nearly quadrupled in the past 30 years due to the expansion of the EU and the growth of the tourism and leisure industry.