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A European Flood Action programme

Internet consultation on a proposal for a Floods Directive -Reducing the risks of floods in Europe

See also :

A proposed Directive on flood risk management

“Reducing the risks of floods in Europe ”

See also :

A proposed Directive on flood risk management

Results of the consultation

This consultation was closed on 14 September 2005 . We are very grateful for the replies received which will feed into the decision to be taken by the Commission concerning the proposal for a Floods Directive.

An evaluation of this consultation (pdf~ 105 kb) revealed a general support for the approach taken by the Commission. The comments received via the questionnaire (pdf~ 85 kb) and received by separate email (pdf~ 4.7 Mb) are included in two separate annexes.


1. Background and objectives of this internet consultation


The Commission Services are currently developing an EU Flood Action Programme (also known as the initiative on flood prevention, protection and mitigation), which is a 'package' of three distinct but closely interlinked components:

  • Research and information : improvement of the exchange of information and knowledge, sharing experiences and increasing awareness;
  • EU funding tools : targeted approach to the best use of funding tools; and
  • Proposal for a legal instrument : proposal for a Floods Directive.

The intention is that the EU Flood Action Programme would build on the Commission Communication of 2004 and the stakeholder consultations held so far. In the Communication " Flood risk management: prevention, protection, mitigation" of 12 July 2004, the Commission set out its initial analysis and approach to flood events and the threat they pose to human life, health, infrastructure, public and private property and, last but not least, to the environment. It reviewed experiences in particular from flood events in past years and proposed concerted action at European as well as river basin (catchment) level. The following stakeholders were invited to participate in the stakeholder consultation process: the EU Member States (1), Candidate Countries (2), EFTA Countries (3), international river commissions (4) and EU umbrella organisations (5).

The Communication was welcomed by the Environment Council and the Commission was requested to come forward with appropriate proposals. The Committee of the Regions and the European Social and Economic Committee also welcomed the communication. The relative documents and information on these consultations are available here.

Building on the results of experience gained in developing the Communication and consultation with stakeholders, the objective of this consultation is to elicit relevant opinions from stakeholders on the principles and elements being considered for inclusion into a new EU Floods Directive.

2. Why an EU Flood action programme?

In recent years Europe suffered over 100 major damaging floods, including the catastrophic floods along the Danu be and Elbe rivers in 2002. Since 1998, floods have caused some 700 fatalities, the displacement of about half a million people and at least 25 billion EUR in insured economic losses (European Environment Agency "Mapping the impacts of recent natural disasters and technological accidents in Europe".

The value of assets at risk of flooding can be enormous. For example, more than 10 million people live in the areas at risk of extreme floods along the Rhine , and the potential damage from floods amounts to € 165 billion. Coastal areas are also at risk of flooding. The total value of economic assets located within 500 metres of the European coastline, including beaches, agricultural land and industrial facilities, is currently estimated at € 500 to 1,000 billion (EUrosion).

In addition to economic and social damage, floods may have severe environmental consequences, for example when drinking water caption facilities or waste water treatment plants are inundated or when factories holding large quantities of toxic chemicals are affected. Floods may also destroy wetland areas and reduce biodiversity.

There is a growing awareness of the significance of river flooding on human health, both physical and psychological. Substantial health implications can occur for example when floodwaters carry pollutants, or are mixed with contaminated water from drains and agricultural land. There will be mental health consequences as well: in addition to the considerable stress of extensive damage, the threat of repeated floods, sometimes coupled with possible withdrawal of insurance cover can make properties impossible to sell.

Floods are natural phenomena which cannot be prevented. However, human activity is contributing to an increase in the likelihood and adverse impacts of extreme flood events, like clearing of forests in the upper catchment area, straightening of rivers and suppression of natural flood plains, inadequate drainage practices.

Two trends point to an increase of flood risk in Europe . Firstly, the magnitude and frequency of floods are likely to increase in the future as a result of climate change (6) (higher intensity of rainfall as well as rising sea levels). Secondly, there has been a marked increase in the number of people and economic assets located in flood risk zones. Hence, the risk of floods will continue to be present in the European Union and may increase considerably during the coming decades. The challenge is to anticipate these changes now and to protect society and the environment from the negative effects of floods.

Sources as well as impacts of flood events are linked to river basins or sub-basins, not to administrative or political borders. Many Member States have already commenced measures at regional and national level, but also in transboundary cooperation in large shared river basins such as Danube, Rhine, Oder and Elbe basin. Concerted and co-ordinated action at the level of the European Union would bring a considerable added value and improve the overall level of flood protection. Given the potential risk to human life, economic assets and the environment, we cannot afford to do nothing; Europe ’s commitment to sustainable development including that to competitiveness and creation of employment could be severely compromised if we do not take appropriate measures.

Concerted and coordinated actions at EU level will aim at:

  • improving co-operation and coordination of flood risk management objectives and measures at river basin level and for coastal zones where human health, the environment, economic activities or the quality of life can be negatively affected by floods;
  • providing information about the areas at risk of flooding as a tool for planning and communication;
  • increasing awareness of citizens, authorities and organisations through wider stakeholder participation and more effective communication;
  • improving information exchange, sharing of experiences and the co-ordinated development and promotion of best practices between Member States , river basins, regions and other parties involved;
  • developing stronger linkages between the research community and the authorities responsible for water management and flood protection;
  • improving co-ordination between the relevant Community policies.

The proposed Floods Directive will focus on the first three items: improving co-operation and coordination, providing information about the areas at risk of flooding and increasing awareness. The Research and information component of the Flood action programme will contribute to the third, fourth and fifth item. The last item will be covered by the component on EU funding tools.

3. The proposed Floods Directive

The views submitted via this consultation will feed into a future decision to be taken by the Commission on a proposal for a Floods Directive.

The objective of the Floods Directive will be to create obligations for Member States to manage risks of floods to people, property and environment by concerted, coordinated action at river basin level and in coastal zones in order to reduce the risks of floods to people, property and environment. It would be developed step-by-step and focus on particular regional circumstances in order to ensure that local and regional circumstances are taken into account in:

  • the analysis of present and future flood risk through flood mapping;
  • information on flood risk and its effects which should be made available to citizens, involved parties and relevant authorities;
  • the elaboration and implementation of flood risk management plans.


  • waters do not respect any administrative or political borders, and that water quality management and flood risk management are both parts of integrated river basin management;
  • river basins as well as the vast majority of stakeholders are identical for water quality management and for flood risk management;
  • there are crucial interrelations, but also a wealth of possible synergies between flood-related measures and water quality management;
  • the new Floods Directive should provide for a pragmatic link to the Water Framework Directive, the key and integrating element of European Union water policy, thus ensuring consistency and avoid double efforts.

The proposal for a Directive is intended to contain a limited number of elements, viz.:

  • Preliminary flood risk assessment,
  • Flood mapping ( = knowing the areas at risk of flooding),
  • Flood risk management plans (= plans to reduce flood risks).

During the discussions with the Council the need for flexibility in identifying priorities has been underlined. This has been confirmed during the stakeholder consultation process in 2005. Further, there is a need for taking into account work already done in the field of flood risk management. To achieve this preliminary risk assessments will be carried out to identify those areas where mapping and plans need to be developed, and those where there is either no significant risk, or those where some or all parts of the management cycle under the Directive are already implemented.

Flood mapping and Flood risk management plans have already been outlined in the annex of the In the Communication "Flood risk management: prevention, protection, mitigation" of 12 July 2004.

Operational Links with Water Framework Directive

By adopting the Water Framework Directive (WFD) the EU has thoroughly restructured its water protection policy. The directive requires that integrated management plans be developed for each river basin in order to achieve good ecological and chemical status. Whilst the WFD will contribute to mitigating the effects of floods, this is not one of the principal objectives of that directive.

The development of river basin management plans under the Water Framework Directive and of flood risk management plans are elements of integrated river basin management; the two processes should therefore use their mutual potential for synergies. Against this background, it seems crucial that the two processes of developing river basin management plans under the WFD and of developing flood risk management plans under a Floods Directive to be proposed provide for optimal synergies and avoid duplication. To achieve this objective, the Commission does not intend to propose an amendment of the WFD, but to propose a separate Floods Directive whilst ensuring the necessary linkages by legislative measures (within the Floods Directive) as well as informal implementation measures (to be guided by the EU Water Directors).

Contact information

If you have any questions about the EU action programme on flood risk management, please send us an email to the Water Mailbox of DG Environment.

(1) Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, the European Commission and the European Environment Agency

(2) Bulgaria , Romania

(3) Iceland , Norway and Switzerland . Liechtenstein

(4) International Commission for Protection of the Rhine, International Commission for Protection of the Danube River, International Meuse Commission, International Commission for Protection of the Escaut/Scheldt, International Commission for Protection of the Elbe, International Commission for Protection of the Oder River

(5) European Insurance Association (CEA), European Water Association (EWA), EUREAU, Union of the Electricity Industry (Eurelectric), COPA-COGECA, Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), European Union of House Builders and Developers ( UEPC) , Environmental Platform of Regional Offices (EPRO, Brussels), European Landowners' Organisation, WWF - European Policy Office, European Environmental Bureau (EEB)

(6) IPCC (2001): Climate Change: The Scientific Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Edited by J.T. Houghton et al.