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2019; a year in review

2019 was a busy year, as the EU continued its review of water policies.

Elections were not only held in the European Parliament, sweeping in over 50% of new members, but also in EurEau, where we welcomed a new president, committee chairs and Executive Board in May.

Dr Claudia Castell-Exner was voted in by her peers as EurEau President for the next two years. The full result of the EurEau elections were:

~ Claudia Castell-Exner - Germany (BDEW and DVGW) – EurEau President

~ Tom Leahy – Ireland (CCMA) – Chair of the EurEau Committee on Drinking Water

~ Michaël Bentvelsen – The Netherlands (Unie van Watterschappen and Vewin) and  Sarah Gillman – United Kingdom (Water UK) – co-Chairs of the EurEau Committee on Waste Water

~ Bruno Tisserand – France (FP2E) – Chair of the EurEau Committee on Economics and Legal Affairs.

In addition to the above, the full Executive Committee  is composed of Alain Gillis (Belgaqua, Belgium), Osmo Seppälä (FIWA, Finland), Mircea Macri (ARA, Romania), Iztok Rozman (CCIS-CPU, Slovenia), Mariano Blanco Orozco (AEAS, Spain) and Stuart Colville (Water UK, United Kingdom).

January saw an acceleration in negotiations on the Drinking Water Directive, with hopes from the Romanian Presidency of the Council for a resolution before the May European Parliament elections. We were pleased that many of our recommendations were included, improving and reinforcing the standards around materials in contact with drinking water (Article 10a), something we campaigned for with the institutions since the initial proposal in early 2018. Despite a lot of work, the negotiations are still ongoing, all be them on details, and we are expecting conclusion today (18 December).

The long-awaited Strategic Approach to Pharmaceuticals in the Environment was presented by the Commission in March. It identifies six action areas that the Commission will target that will better protect the environment, including the full life cycle of pharmaceuticals. While we support the overall approach, a number of promising source control measure were omitted.

The Water Reuse Regulation was concluded before the end of the year, with agreements on feasible quality standards to protect consumers, plus apportion of ‘point of compliance’ responsibilities along the chain as well as permits. Overall we are happy with the outcome of this regulation which should alleviate pressure on drinking water sources in vulnerable regions.

One file that was positively concluded was the Single-Use Plastics Directive. The good news is that certain single-use plastics – including wet wipes – will be regulated. Specifically for wet wipes, the directive will require labelling and awareness-raising campaigns and introduce extended producer responsibility – something EurEau supports as wet wipes cause hundreds of millions of Euros of damage to the sewer system annually. Wet wipe producers will also have to finance awareness-raising campaigns to inform consumers about the damage their products can cause to the sewer network and the cost of repairing this. Moreover, wet wipe producers will have to pay for cleaning up litter.

As for fertilisers, we worked with the EU institutions to include sewage sludge-based products as a component of this. The Fertiliser Regulation defines criteria for CE-marked fertilisers, and sewage sludge is not allowed as input material for compost and digestate. However, some recovered products like struvite or ash-based products, produced from sewage sludge will be authorised under the regulation. Non-CE marked fertilisers continue to be allowed on national markets and any product coming from sludge can be produced if it is recognised by national regulations. This keeps the doors open for the recycling of nutrients in Europe. Nationally, sewage sludge can continue to be used as fertiliser where it is already possible to do so.

Progress on CAP was slow. There is agreement, broadly, that at least 30% of direct payments in the next CAP should go to schemes that support EU climate and the environmental objectives. The next steps will take place in the European Parliament in April or May 2020.

The Big News at the end of 2019 was the European Commission’s Green deal. Looking at water, the plan aims to "restore the natural functions of ground and surface water". One means of achieving this will be through preventing potentially harmful contaminants from entering our environment. We await the proposed measures!  

Also in the proposed Green Deal is the Commission’s 'Zero Pollution' ambition, which could focus attention on end-of-pipe treatments by drinking water and waste water operators, while no effective control at source measures are taken. This would very significantly increase energy and resource use in the water sector and jeopardise carbon reduction plans.

However, in end-of-year ‘good news’, the evaluations on the WFD and the UWWTD were published, with probable revisions of both of these key pieces of EU legislation.

In addition, the EurEau secretariat plus many of our members met with stakeholders from across the spectrum, including the EU institutions, on top of our committee, general Assembly and Executive Committee meetings and the Annual Congress. We also met with a lot of our member organisations, from Austria to the UK, wrote press articles, launched our manifesto for the European Parliament elections and participated in Green Week. We also published several positon papers and briefing notes on topics from PMT to energy use in the water sector.

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