Amidst a thorough evaluation of EU water policy, a high level conference concludes that reinforced joint efforts in policy, law and investments are necessary to preserve and further improve Europe’s waters
The 5th EU Water Conference in Vienna discussed trends in European water quality and flood management, and looked at whether Europe’s water policy is able to deal with current and future water challenges, such as pollution from microplastics or pharmaceuticals and the impacts of climate change.
The overall picture of Europe’s waters today is mixed. Much more needs to be done to achieve the objectives of the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive. Good progress has been made across Europe in the improvement of water quality. The management of water has become more integrated, and far more knowledge is available. The management of risks to prevent floods has also advanced.
However structural problems remain, including pollution from agriculture or insufficiently treated waste water, damaging physical changes to rivers and lakes and over-abstraction of water. These problems can, amongst others, be tackled when assessing the overall “fitness” of EU Water law, including the Urban Waste Water Treatment directive.
Danube sturgeon as best practice
Some of the main takeaways from the conference include:
EU Member States need to step up efforts to restore, maintain and improve the state of EU waters, by applying EU water legislation. This requires greater investments in water infrastructure and water-related measures, by using public, private and EU sources.
The example of ongoing efforts to save the sturgeon in the Danube and the salmon in the Rhine – both flagship species and indicators of good water status – demonstrate how combining political, legal and financial means, including EU funds, at all levels and across borders can yield far-reaching results in terms of restoring habitats and migration routes.
EU water legislation also needs to be thoroughly evaluated to check whether it is still fit for purpose. The Commission has just started this process, and the results of this conference will be another valuable input to it.
The European Commission and Austria, which holds the current Presidency of the Council of the EU, organised the 5th European Water Conference in Vienna on 20 and 21 September 2018. The conference came at a key moment in the development of European water policy.
The European Environment Agency recently published a comprehensive report on the state of Europe’s water. It shows that water quality is improving, albeit slowly. The Commission is also finalising its assessment of the River Basin Management Plans and the Flood Risk Management Plans for the period 2015 to 2021.
Finally, EU water legislation is being evaluated: the Commission has just started the Fitness Check of the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive and an evaluation of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. Until 19 October you can access the online public consultation for this evaluation.
21 September 2018