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European Commission decides not to revise the WFD

The European Commissioner for the Environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius, confirmed this week that the Water Framework Directive will not be revised. The directive is the centrepiece of the EU’s water quality legislation, requiring countries to ensure that all waterways are in “good ecological condition” by 2027.

Instead, the Commission will focus on implementing and enforcing it. They will look into the need to update the priority substances and the groundwater annexes (the so-called ‘daughter directives’). We acknowledge that the Commission remains committed to properly integrating water policy into other initiatives such as the Zero Pollution Action Plan.

We believe that policy coordination with specific sectors such as agriculture, industry and energy and with related EU legislation such as the Nitrates Directive, pesticides and biocides legislation, the Industrial Emissions Directive and the REACH Regulation is paramount to achieving the ambition of the WFD.

The raft of new plans from the Commission, such as the Green Deal, the New Circular Economy Action Plan, the Zero Pollution Ambition, the Chemicals and Industrial Strategies and the Farm to Fork Strategy are the ideal opportunity to do this.

We want that these plans be aligned with the founding principles of the EU: Prevention, Control-at-Source, Precautionary and Polluter Pays. Water pricing policies should be better implemented according to Cost Recovery, as enshrined in Article 9 of the WFD, and the Polluter Pays Principle should be fully applied through effective financing tools such as Extended Producer Responsibility.

The December 2019 fitness check of the WFD concluded that it is broadly fit-for-purpose but that some elements of it can be improved upon, including increasing investments in water management and tackling chemical pollution. These investments could be funded from the financing tools outlined above.

We recognise that the chemical status of rivers across Europe has improved since the implementation of the WFD in 2000. However, the safeguarding of drinking water resources and the aquatic environment requires more data, more frequent and of better quality for the substances to be monitored (including pesticides and pollutants of emerging concern) and better addressed.

The 2027 deadline for Member States to meet the requirements of the WFD stands, which means that the next River Basin Management Plans must live up to this challenge and provide both adequate ambition and financing.

With a view to maintaining political support, including on the so-called one-out-all-out principle, communication on progress towards good ecological status must be improved in order to better reflect the investments already made. The Commission will need to clarify how it will address non-compliance with the directive’s goals after the 2027 deadline. In light of the impacts of climate change, the availability of water resources should also be thoroughly considered. Governance needs improvement particularly to avoid cross-border pollution.

A robust and fully implemented Water Framework Directive protects our water resources and the environment, keeping our groundwater, rivers and lakes free from pollution long after 2027. Member States efforts to implement the directive need also to be supported. 

 

You can read our comments on the Commission’s December evaluation here.

Our position paper outlining our vision for a post-2027 scenario of the WFD is here.

The Deloitte study on Extended Producer Responsibility is here.

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