Fitness Check of the EU Water Legislation

Introduction

The Fitness Check of the EU Water Legislation is a comprehensive policy evaluation assessing whether the current regulatory framework for a policy sector is “fit for purpose” as per the Better Regulation Guidelines. The goal is to assess the effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, relevance and EU added value of EU Water Legislation, thus promoting better/smarter legislation, making it more responsive to current and future challenges as well as helping improve implementation.

EU freshwater policy has already been subject to a Fitness Check adopted in 2012, which included the assessment of the first River Basin Management Plans in accordance with Water Framework Directive.

This new Fitness Check of the EU Water Legislation will cover:

The Water Framework Directive is the most comprehensive instrument of EU water policy. Its main objective is to protect and enhance freshwater resources with the aim of achieving good status of EU waters; its scope extends beyond lakes, rivers, and groundwaters to transitional and coastal waters. The main tools to implement the Directive are the River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) and the Programmes of Measures, which are prepared in 6-year cycles. The two Directives directly linked to the Water Framework Directive, the Groundwater Directive and the Environmental Quality Standards Directive (the latter also called the Priority Substances Directive), follow from obligations under the Water Framework Directive and are directly relevant to the determination of the environmental objectives and standards specified under the Water Framework Directive (good chemical status, including groundwater bodies).

The Floods Directive has been the catalyst for introducing a risk management approach in the dealings of Member States with significant floods across the EU. The ultimate tools to implement the Floods Directive are the Flood Risk Management Plans (FRMPs), which are to include the objectives and the measures necessary to meet them. The Directive allows a framework to be established for the assessment and management of flood risk, aiming at reducing the risk of flood damage, in particular its adverse consequences for human health, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activity.

Scope of the Fitness Check

The Fitness Check will cover the performance of the mentioned key Directives in all Member States and over the whole lifespan of the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive to date, meaning the two cycles of RBMPs and Programmes of Measures and the first cycle of FRMPs.

The Commission is currently assessing the second RBMPs and first FRMPs, and its implementation reports are expected in autumn 2018. The Commission is combining the evaluation of the Water Framework Directive (and its associated Directives) with that of the Floods Directive, since the preparation and implementation of management plans by Member States under these two Directives has to be coordinated.

The implementation reports will be the starting point for the Fitness Check, presenting the actions taken by Member States, and the current status of European water bodies compared with the objectives of the Directives. They will identify the main shortcomings in implementation, but will also highlight the progress made since the first RBMPs were adopted.

The Fitness Check, which will also draw on supporting studies, will aim to explain how and to what extent the Directives have contributed to improved water management in the Member States and at EU level. It will also assess the potential for regulatory simplification and burden reduction. A quantitative assessment of actual costs and benefits including impacts on business will be carried out as far as possible. The Fitness Check may identify aspects of the legislation or its implementation that could be improved, and may therefore serve as the basis for further action by the European Commission.

This Fitness Check is linked to the Evaluation of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD, 91/271/EEC), as the measures under the UWWTD are essential for the achievement of the Water Framework Directive objectives, and are explicitly integrated in the Water Framework Directive Programmes of Measures as "basic measures". The Evaluation of the UWWTD will run a little ahead of this Fitness Check, and its results are therefore expected to provide useful input for the Fitness Check of the Water Framework Directive.

In addition, the European Commission adopted in February 2018 a proposal for a revised Drinking Water Directive to improve the quality of drinking water and provide greater access and information to citizens. The proposal for modernizing the 20-year-old Drinking Water Directive (98/83/EC) comes as a result of the REFIT evaluation, the implementation of the Commission's response to the European Citizens' Initiative 'Right2Water' and as a contribution to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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