WFD and UWWTD at the Environment Council December 2019
The European Commissioner for Environment presented the results of the fitness check of the water legislation at Environment Council on 19 December 2019 under an information point of the agenda.
Commissioner Sinkevicius gave a brief overview of the outcome of the evidence-based retrospective analysis of the water package including the Water Framework Directive and its daughter-directives the EQS Directive (or priority substances directive) and the Ground Water Directive, the Floods Directive and the Urban Waste Watee Treatment Directive. The aim of the exercise was to check whether the legislation is still fit-for-purpose.
The European Commissioner spelled clearly that for the WFD the results are mixed. If the directive has been successful in setting up a governance system of integrated water management of the 110.000 basins in Europe and in slowing down the deterioration of water bodies and reducing chemical pollution, the delay in the implementation of the directive means that only less than a half of the water bodies is in good status, thus missing by the 2015 deadline.
He identified the three factors responsible for the current situation: the insufficient funding, the slow implementation by Member States and the insufficient integration of the environmental objectives in other sectoral policies.
The insufficient implementation by Member States and by economic sectors that have an impact on water is one element that is highlighted in the fitness check: this is not in line with the widespread support for the water aquis . The public consultation received more than 370,000 answers.
The Commissioner urged all the parties concerned to speed up the implementation of the WFD and, in addition, in the overall context of the Green Deal, he confirmed that the Commission will explore how to further enhance the effectiveness of the directive.
For the Floods Directive the evaluation showed an improvement of flood risk management, however more efforts are necessary to raise awareness and strengthen coordinated flood prevention in line with climate change projections.
On the UWWTD's assessment conclusions Mr Sinkevicius stated that while this piece of legislation managed to reduce the negative impact of waste water on the environment across the EU when and where implemented, the efforts of implementation need to be stepped up. The OECD found that 253 billion euros will need to be spent to reach and mantain compliance.
The further compliance increases the more important it becomes dealing with the remaining pollutions not sufficiently addressed by this old instrument. Climate change and the increase of high precipitation events require that we find a better way to deal with storm water overflows and urban runoffs. We also need to find a way to deal with the pollution coming from non-connected houses which has also an important social dimension.
The analysis also shows that the waste water sector has the capacity to contribute more to the EU climate and energy target. The waste water treatment sector uses 0,8% of the whole EU energy consumption. At the same time there are already treatment plants that are energy neutral or energy producing. In addition there is scope to align the directive with the circular economy potential through the consideration of improved resource recovery.
Lastly the Commission will continue to address the increasing levels of pharmaceuticals and microplastics in water resources. The European Green Deal will announce new measures on these specific issues. New instruments such as Extended Producers Responsibility schemes already used for solid waste will be explored to ensure that the lack of finance does not stand in the way for making further progress.
The Commissioner thanked the Croatian Presidency that will prepare Council Conclusions to be adopted at the Environment Council in June.
Spain took the floor recalling that water is the main witness of climate change and efforts will be needed in the water sector more than in others and for longer time, especially in the Mediterranean countries. The Spanish Minister congratulated the EU institutions for reaching agreement on the Drinking Water Directive and the Water Reuse Regulation, stressing the need to incorporate circular economy mechanisms into water. The WFD offers enough flexibility to establish mechanisms of progress until 2027 and step up the efforts to reach the objectives.
Italy intervend to call for the creation of specific financing tools for climate adaptation measures within the implementation of the WFD and the Floods Directive, in order to guarantee a better resilience of the infrastructure and networks. These financing tools should take into account both the investments in new green infrastructure and also the maintenance of existing infrastructure with the aim of reaching the objectives within the 2027 deadline.
While it looks confirmed that the Environment Ministers gathering on the 5 March 2020 under the Croatian Presidency will have an exchange of views on the results of the fitness check, for the moment it is not clear whether Council Conclusions will be adopted in June 2020 by the Environment Council.
I will keep you updated on the follow-up!
Water matters. EU matters.