The European Commission has published its fifteenth annual report on the quality of bathing water in the European Union, covering 1997. The report covers 13,129 seaside beaches and 6,177 freshwater bathing areas. This year's report shows that although more than 90% of the coastal bathing areas respect the minimum quality requirements, there has been little improvement on a year-on-year basis. There are, however, encouraging results with regard to freshwater areas, with almost 80% respecting the minimum requirements. This is a marked improvement from last year when around one third of freshwater bathing areas were either insufficiently monitored or did not meet the minimum requirements. New elements to this year's report include the first submission from Austria, which shows 96.6% compliance with the mandatory requirements and 85.1% compliance with the stricter guide values. Sections on microbiological contamination, and on causes of non-conformity, were also included in this year's report, to clarify some common areas of misunderstanding. The European Environment Commissioner, Mrs. Ritt Bjerregaard, speaking at the launch of the report, repeated her annual request for continued attention to improving the quality of freshwater bathing zones and a greater effort for improved compliance with the stricter guide values for coastal areas.