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Water and Agriculture intergroup meeting

23 March 2017

The working group ‘agriculture and water management’ of the European Parliament intergroup on ‘Biodiversity, Climate Change and Sustainable Development’ met on March 21 to debate the Sustainable Management of Water in Agriculture – Addressing pressure from agriculture to achieve the goals of the WFD. On the eve of the World Water Day, MEP Michel Dantin (EPP/FR), chairing the meeting, recalled the essential interdependence between water and agriculture, taking into account challenges such as climate change, pollution due to pesticides and nitrates, while stressing the need for more research.

Mr Pierre Bascou, Director for Sustainability and income support in DG AGRI, reminded that 44 % of total water abstraction in Europe is used for agriculture and water resources are compromised in terms of quantity (especially in Southern Europe) and quality (mostly in Northen Europe). Overabstraction affects 10% of surface water and 20% of groundwater bodies, although, globally speaking, it is declining. The current policy framework will be evaluated and DG AGRI will have to rethink the three main tools in a post-2020 perspective: the cross-compliance mechanism, the direct payments in ecological focus areas and the rural development measures of the second pillar. In the short term the European Commission will evaluate the various policies and will try to enhance cross-sectoral cooperation to improve governance. Bottlenecks to the implementation of the River Basin Management Plans should be removed and access to funding should be improved. In the long term the modernisation of the CAP is envisaged. 

From DG Environment, Ms Claire McCamphill highlighted the work of the internal task force on water and agriculture set up by DG ENV and DG AGRI. The task force has been assessing the existing legislative framework, looking specifically at measures that are not delivering the expected results: the Nitrates Directive is one of the tools that is under consideration. In the upcoming weeks the Commission will publish a staff working document and on the 8 May a Water-Agri Directors meeting will take place to bring the discussions forward ahead of the informal Agri Council.  

Dr Claudia Castell-Exner, Vice-President of EurEau, gave the view of the water services on the sustainable management of water in agriculture, stressing the need for a holistic approach when considering the legislative framework, looking at the provisons of the CAP, pesticides regulation, nitrates directive in the light of the Water Framework Directive objectives and the Drinking Water Directive obligations with the ultimate aim to protect water resources. She also spoke about the cooperation between water utilities and farmers that, although welcomed, are voluntary and often disappointing in the protection of water resources.     

Ms Martina Mlinaric from WWF invited the audience to consider not only the water framework directive but also the biodiversity legislation and pointed out that the restoration agenda is blocked by CAP. She called for phasing out direct payments and the implementation of the cost recovery principle. 

The farmers (COPA-COGECA) were represented by Mr Valentin Opfermann who acknowleged that, since the impacts of climate change are unknown, farmers need to adapt and consider additional resources such as reclaimed water to irrigate crops. He also pointed at the technical challenges to reuse treated waste water and spoke about the acceptability by consumers. He spoke against the one-ou-all-out principle, maintaining that it lacks a reality check.

A very lively debate followed and the audience shared ideas, raised issues and proposed solutions in order to make agriculture more sustainable when it comes to the use and the protection of water resources. If you wish to have more information on the meeting you can find it here

The publication of the Commission staff working document in the upcoming weeks is definetly a very good news and a first important step in the right direction!

Carla

Water matters. EU matters.   

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