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Not upgrading water legislation compromises the EU's zero-pollution ambition  

Cities and regions acknowledge the positive impact of the Water Framework Directive and regret the European Commission decision not to upgrade it. Members denounce inadequate funding, implementation shortages in some Member States and insufficient integration of environmental objectives in sectoral policies

The European Committee of the Regions is to adopt an opinion on the 'Fitness Check of the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive' by rapporteur Piotr Całbecki (PL/EPP), president of the Kujawsko-Pomorskie Region. In the context of the COVID-19 and unabated global warming, Piotr Całbecki calls for a paradigm shift that places circularity and sustainability at the centre of water management policies. The opinion was discussed during the plenary session alongside a high-level debate on the European Green Deal. Read here an interview with rapporteur Piotr Całbecki on the next steps to improve water quality and sustainability.

The rapporteur Piotr Całbecki (PL/EPP), president of the Kujawsko-Pomorskie Region, said: "We need a paradigm shift that places circularity at the centre of water management. It is important to establish permanent cooperation between local and regional policy-makers and scientists as to make the best policy choices based on innovative approaches including eco-hydrology and nature-based solutions. I deeply regret the European Commission decided not to upgrade the water framework directive. However, I am confident that the European Green Deal will provide new opportunities to improve water quality as to make the zero-pollution ambition a reality." 

The opinion includes the following key points:

  • The CoR welcomes the timely delivery of the fitness check of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Floods Directive (FD). Both are fit for purpose and have led to a higher level of protection for water bodies and flood risk management. However, not all objectives have been fully reached due to inadequate funding, slow implementation and insufficient integration of environmental objectives in sectoral policies.
  • The CoR proposes urgent implementation of innovative tools to achieve good ecological status in European catchments, such as Eco-hydrological Nature Based Solutions. It upgrades the efficiency of hydro-technical infrastructure, enhances the catchment sustainability multidimensional potential and promotes a holistic approach by encouraging transdisciplinary sustainability science and education.
  • Members urge reaching greater coherence and coordination across all interrelated EU legislation on water. With increasing climate change impacts, the FD should be integrated with the WFD to enhance ground water recharge, the retentiveness of river valleys through retention in the floodplains, polders and the restitution of water levels in surrounding lakes and wetlands.
  • Members are concerned that a number of countries are not implementing the WFD to a sufficient extent.
  • In the context of the Green Deal and the consecution of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the WFD should be upgraded. Members regret the European Commission decided not to open the WFD.
  • While the level of chemical pollution of EU's waters has improved, additional efforts are needed to tackle national differences in listing priority substances and the limit values of pollutants and better defining the health and environmental risks of the combined effects of polluting mixtures.
  • The CoR welcomes the ban of the thiacloprid pesticide, calls for a ban on glyphosate and pushes for a Common Agricultural Policy that supports the end of pesticides. Pollution needs to be addressed at source, members recall, and pledge for the "polluter pays" principle to be fully applied.
  • The CoR urges the European Commission to increase the enforcement of legal obligations covering water pollution, including new substances such as micro plastics and pharmaceuticals. Current waste water treatment plants are not entirely capable of removing micro pollutants, members recall.
  • Members point out that the quality of drinking water resources remains under threat. In view of the Drinking Water Directive recast, members ask to focus on improving the non-deterioration of the quality of the water bodies used for drinking water abstraction and the reduction of the level of purification treatment required in the production of drinking water.
  • Members are concerned by the fact that more than half of all European water bodies are currently subject to exemptions, which makes it unlikely that the objectives of the WFD can be achieved by the 2027 deadline.
  • In the context of the COVID-19, the CoR calls for improved sterilisation of wastewater in order to eliminate any epidemiological threats to water quality.
  • The CoR recalls that small and medium sewage treatment plants have a permanent efficiency problem and recommends using Eco-hydrological Nature Based Solutions (EH-NBS).
  • The CoR calls on the European Commission to provide further financial support for cities and regions to develop innovative water management solutions and encourages participation in the Water Erasmus initiative.

The opinion was presented alongside a high-level debate on the European Green Deal, the EU's growth strategy to reach climate-neutrality by 2050. On 15 June, the CoR launched the working group 'Green Deal Going Local'. Composed of 13 local and regional elected representatives, it aims at converting the Green Deal into concrete projects and direct funding for cities and regions to deliver the sustainable transition on the ground.

Background:

Click here to reach the new web portal 'Green Deal Going Local'.

The draft opinion 'Fitness Check of the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive' by rapporteur Piotr Całbecki (PL/EPP) is available in 23 EU languages.

Read here an interview with rapporteur Piotr Całbecki on the next steps to improve water quality and sustainability.

EU's water-dependent sectors generate EUR 3.4 trillion annually, equivalent to 26% of the EU's annual gross value added, and employ around 44 million people. In parallel, notes with alarm that only 40% of Europe's surface waters are estimated to have good ecological status and only 38% good chemical status (EEA Report No 7/2018, p. 6)

Water protection and management transcend regional and national borders, since 60% of river basins in the EU extend beyond the territory of a single Member State.

A third of EU's land suffers from water stress. Water scarcity is a concern in many Member States. While climate change results in unpredictable weather patterns, increasing droughts and shortfalls in the quantity and quality of freshwater resources are to be expected. CoR Press Release 11/12/2018 on 'Reusing water for agriculture and keeping our urban areas green.'

Press Contact:

David Crous
Tel.: +32 (0) 470 88 10 37
david.crous@cor.europa.eu