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The EU Floods Directive

floodsA Communication on Flood risk management; Flood prevention, protection and mitigation

Flood events have the potential to undermine the EU’s drive towards sustainable development and the flood risks are increasing. In response to the severe floods in 2002, the Commission therefore took the initiative to launch concerted action at Community level to help reduce the severity of flood events and the damage caused by these floods.

In the Communication on Flood risk management; Flood prevention, protection and mitigation (COM(2004) 472final of 12.7.2004) the Commission proposed to develop and implement a concerted EU Action Programme on flood risk management. It proposed that the Member States and the Commission shall work together to develop and implement a co-ordinated flood prevention, protection and mitigation action programme.

The issue of flood protection including the Communication were discussed at both the Informal Environment Council on 18 July 2004 and at the Environment Council on 14 October 2004. In October the Council has adopted Conclusions on flood risk management and agreed that based on the Communication, the Member States and the European Commission, in the context of the regular meetings of the EU Water Directors in co-operation with other stakeholders and relevant parties, should prepare the contents of such concerted European action.

The Council invited the Commission to submit an "appropriate proposal taking into account the Council conclusions and the work of the Informal meeting of the Water Directors, preferably before mid 2005".

Towards a legal instrument on flood risk management

Political mandate

During 2005 the Commission developed a proposal for a Directive on flood risk management, including extensive consultations with stakeholders and the public.

The starting point for the development of the legal instrument is the annex of the Commission’s Communication on Flood risk management, taking into account the principles of flexibility and subsidiarity which have been recalled in the Council conclusions as well. Opinions expressed by other EU institutions such as the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee where also taken into account.

At the EU Water Directors meeting in Amsterdam 2-3 December 2004 there was overall support for the 'package' approach, as well as emphasis that a possible legal instrument must not be the only deliverable of concerted European action on flood prevention/protection. Water Directors invited the Commission to further elaborate on the 'package' using as well the foreseen consultation process.

The development of flood risk management plans and of river basin management plans under the Water Framework Directive and are both elements of integrated river basin management. Therefore, as envisaged by the Commission and confirmed in the Council conclusions, one of the guiding principles of the approach to be developed is that there is a strong linkage with the Water Framework Directive (WFD) .

Extensive consultation of stakeholders and the public

In the summer of 2005 an internet consultation on a draft Directive was undertaken and a number of stakeholder meetings were held in 2005.

One of the issues identified during the stakeholder consultation process was the need to start with a preliminary risk assessment in order to apply a risk-based approach and to identify those river basins and/or sub-basins where no further action has to be taken because there is no potential significant flood risks . This would allow for targeted action in ‘risk’ areas whilst avoiding action in ‘no significant risk’ areas. Secondly, the majority of Member States underlined the need for a flexible approaches which:

i. recognised the diversity of natural conditions across Europe ;

ii. was based - for inland waters - on an integrated approach to be applied within each river basin;

iii. took account of existing actions at national and international level and avoided duplication;

iv. was very closely co-ordinated with the implementation of the Water Framework Directive;

v. was based on a step-wise approach to the elaboration of flood-risk maps, and the development and implementation of flood management programmes.

A total of 261 replies to the internet consultation were received: 59.8% of them from organisations and institutions (including Member States), and the other 40.2% from individuals. The replies were from EU Member States and Candidate Countries, half of them from Germany , Romania and the United Kingdom .

The main conclusion that can be drawn from this consultation is that an overwhelming majority of respondents either completely agree or largely agree with the idea that the EU Flood Action Programme should include a legal instrument imposing an obligation to pursue an integrated and co-ordinated approach based on the principle of solidarity and shared responsibility.

A detailed account of the results can be found at: 

See also :

A proposal for a Directive on the assessment and management of floods

On 18 January 2006 the Commission adopted its proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the assessment and management of floods (COM(2006)15 final of 18.1.2006). The documents relating to this proposal are available to download below .

Objective and substance of the proposed Directive

The legal instrument is proposed to be ambitious in its scope but not prescriptive in its tools. It intends to translate the approach outlined in the Communication on Flood risk management of July 2004 and the discussions during the stakeholder consultation process into operational actions. It is includes the following proposed obligations for the Member States:

1. Preliminary flood risk assessment : it is essential that action will only be taken in areas where potential significant flood risks exist or are reasonably foreseeable in the future. If in a particular river basin, sub-basin or stretch of coastline no potential significant flood risk exists or is reasonably foreseeable in the future, Member States would be able to identify them in the preliminary flood risk assessment. For these river basins and/or sub-basins no further action would have to be taken.

2. Flood risk maps : taking into account the possible exceptions provided for in the preliminary flood risk assessment, flood risks would be mapped for the river basins and sub-basins with significant potential risk of flooding, in order to:

  • increase public awareness;
  • support the process of prioritising, justifying and targeting investments and developing sustainable policies and strategies;
  • support flood risk management plans, spatial planning and emergency plans.

Where maps conforming to the requirements of the directive already exist for river basin and stretches of coast line, Member States may use these existing maps for the purposes of satisfying the directive.

3. Flood risk management plans: taking into account the possible exceptions provided for in the preliminary flood risk assessment, flood risk management plans would be developed and implemented at river basin/sub-basin level to reduce and manage the flood risk. These plans would include the analysis and assessment of flood risk, the definition of the level of protection, and identification and implementation of sustainable measures applying the principle of solidarity: not passing on problems to upstream or downstream regions and preferably contributing to reduction of flood risks in upstream and downstream regions.

To take account of the diversity in flood events and impacts throughout Europe , the following issues would not be prescribed in a legal instrument, but would be left to the Member States:

  • detailed objectives and deadlines for managing flood risks, e.g. setting a Community wide common level of protection which has to be achieved everywhere and within a certain time frame;
  • accompanying measures.

Clearly the appropriate level of protection will vary from river basin to river basin and even within each river basin. For example, high levels of protection might be required in the vicinity of major cities, or near sites of particular cultural or historic significance. Within each river basin the Member States will determine the level of protection most appropriate for each locality.

As flood risks may change over time due to climate change and changes in land use, it would be important to regularly review and where necessary update the three elements of the legal instrument.

Links with the Water Framework Directive (WFD) (2000/60/EC )

The importance of close links with Water Framework Directive was emphasised all through the consultation process. There are also important actual or potential links between the purposes and methods of flood risk management and the achievement of water quality objectives under the Water Framework Directive.

The proposed Directive therefore includes a number of links to ensure close coordination in the two implementation processes. This is important to ensure there is no overlap of procedures and institutions and that the timetables for implementation is such that maximum synergies can be achieved.

The Commission proposes that :

  • the administrative units shall be the same for the two Directives, ie the Floods directive shall be implemented on the level of the river basin districts (which includes not just river basins and sub basins but also associated coastal areas) identified in the WFD article 3 and the competent authority responsible for the WFD shall also be responsible for the flood risk management actions.
  • the principles for coordination within the river basins , in particularly as river basins are shared between Member States or with third Countries are the same in the two Directives.
  • the implementation cycles and reporting mechanisms shall be synchronised as regards the timetables, and it is envisaged that the Member States can choose to include the flood risk management plans in the river basin managements plans required under the WFD.
  • the public participation and information mechanisms of the WFD shall furhtermore be used, and as the key tools of the flood directive – the preliminary flood risk assessment, the flood risk maps and the flood risk management plans – shall be made available to the public, there can be further synergies made with the electronic reporting mechanisms, being developed under the WFD, including for public information.

Impact Assessment

In support of the proposed Directive, the Commission services has prepared an Impact assessment. Based on the data available from previous floods in different river basins, it is shown that the benefits of adequate flood risk management often far outweighs the costs.

In preparation of the Impact Assessment two studies were carried out to assess the types of and range of costs and benefits involved in flood risk managment:

  • "Evaluation of the impacts of floods and associated protection policies", by Office International de l'Eau and Ecologic.
  • "The impacts of coastal flooding, flood mapping and planning", by Water Research Centre (WRC) plc.

These documents are available to download below .

Next steps

The proposed Directive is subject to the co-decision procedure, which means that the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers will negotiate a text that can be jointly agreed, with the opinions sought also from the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee (Article 251 of the Treaty establishing the European Community). News on the developments of these negotiations will be included on this page.

See also :

Download the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the assessment and management of floods (COM(2006)15 final of 18.1.2006) and other related documents here.