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Brussels, 12 July 2004

Flood protection: Commission proposes concerted EU action

The European Commission today - for the first time – proposed concerted EU action on flood risk management to improve protection against flooding. The Commission proposes a number of actions. These include flood risk management plans for affected river basins and coastal zones, flood risk maps showing the areas at risk of flooding, co-ordination of information exchange, ensuring the contribution of all relevant EU policies and increasing public awareness. Between 1998 and 2002, Europe suffered over 100 major damaging floods, including the catastrophic floods along the Danube and Elbe rivers in 2002. Since 1998, floods have caused some 700 deaths, the displacement of about half a million people and at least € 25 billion in insured economic losses.

Commissioner for the Environment Margot Wallström said: “Catastrophic floods endanger human lives and cause human tragedy. They also affect economic life and undermine Europe’s progress towards sustainable development. Although floods are natural phenomena that we cannot prevent, we can try and reduce their likelihood and protect ourselves more effectively. I believe that only concerted actions can improve flood protection all over Europe. We need better coordination with the participation of all member states to achieve this goal.”

Increasing flood risks

The risk of floods will probably increase during the coming decades. Two trends point to this. Firstly, the magnitude and frequency of floods are likely to increase in the future as a result of climate change, i.e. higher intensity of rainfall as well as rising sea levels. Secondly, the impact of flood events may increase, because more people live in areas at risk of flooding and also more economic assets (business and industry) are located in such areas. Moreover, human activities such as the clearing of forests, the straightening of rivers, the suppression of natural flood plains and poor land planning, have contributed significantly to increasing the risk of floods.

Why a concerted action?

The challenge is to protect society and the environment from the negative effects of floods. Therefore, in today’s Communication, the Commission is promoting a concerted EU programme to improve flood protection. Member States will co-operate and coordinate to develop and implement flood risk management plans at river basin level and within coastal areas to prevent problems being passed on from one area to another. Flood risk maps will be developed as a tool for planning and communication.

The Commission will facilitate co-ordination of information exchange on flood protection and the promotion of best practices as well as ensuring that all relevant EU policies contribute to flood protection. The Member States and the Commission together will be responsible for the overall coordination of the action programme.

The added value of concerted European action will result in better management of flood risks and hence an improved level of protection. In addition, citizens will be better prepared in case of a flood event and know how to act in order to reduce the damage.

The subject of flooding will be discussed at the informal Environment Council which takes place on 18 July 2004. The Dutch presidency has defined flood protection as one of its priorities.

The communication, as well as other information on EU’s water policy, can be found at :

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