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Brussels, 15 November 2012
BLUEPRINT TO SAFEGUARD EUROPE'S WATER RESOURCES – questions and answers
What is the Blueprint? What is its goal?
The Blueprint is a new EU strategy on the use of water resources. It sets the agenda for EU action for the years to come.
The objective is to make water use sustainable in the EU. This means ensuring good quality water for human needs, economic activities and the environment. Water demand and supply need to be balanced, in line with the needs of people and the natural ecosystems we depend on.
Why do we need a new water strategy now?
The main piece of legislation controlling Europe's waters, the Water Framework Directive, was adopted in 2000. It sets a central goal of attaining good status for Europe's waters by 2015. But as the deadline approaches, the water environment in the EU is under great pressure from economic activities, urban and demographic developments, and climate change. Many studies, including reports from the European Environment Agency1 show that unless additional action is taken, it will not be possible to achieve good status by 2015. This will make it more difficult and expensive to provide adequate water quality in sufficient quantity for human use and for activities like agriculture, the agro-food-drink industry, energy production, the manufacturing sector, and so on. More action is therefore needed.
What is the biggest problem: water quantity or water quality?
Water quality and quantity are two sides of the same coin. Good water status not only requires that pollution is controlled (quality) but also that the ecological water flow (quantity) is guaranteed for ecosystems to continue to deliver their services.
Under the Water Framework Directive, Member States had to report on the status of their river basins by 2010, and on plans to rectify any shortcomings. The Commission's assessment of these plans shows that good ecological status will be reached in 53% of EU water bodies by the 2015 target date. The main pressures on aquatic ecosystems are hydromorphological changes, pollution, and excessive water abstraction. Water scarcity is spreading in Europe and extreme events like droughts and floods are increasing. This means that Europe now has problems with both water quantity and quality.
Isn't the existing legislation enough to address water problem? Is the Commission proposing new legislation?
The Commission has conducted a series of assessments to check the adequacy of current legislation and its implementation.
A 'Fitness Check' of freshwater policy, looked at the relevance, coherence, effectiveness and efficiency of water policy. A major evaluation of the implementation of the Water Framework Directive was also carried out, assessing Member States' River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) throughout the Union. A gap analysis of the Commission's 2007 policy on Water Scarcity and Drought was also done, together with an assessment of how vulnerable water resources are to climate change and other man-made pressures such as urbanisation and land use.
The results show no need for a fundamental overhaul of the current policy framework, as the legislative framework is largely complete and fit for purpose. But better implementation and closer integration with other related policies are clearly required. A few gaps have been identified but the Blueprint does not propose new legislation at this stage. These will be addressed in subsequent proposals.
What are the key recommendations in the Blueprint?
The Blueprint highlights the need for Member States to improve implementation of the Water Framework Directive and reduce pressure from agriculture, energy production and navigation, for instance by using green infrastructure such as wetlands, floodplains and buffer strips along water courses. This would also reduce the EU’s vulnerability to floods and droughts. Under the CAP, the Cohesion and the Structural Funds, there is scope to fund the take-up of green infrastructure. The Commission proposes the development of guidance on water related green infrastructure to support its take up.
The Blueprint stresses the need to tackle over-allocation of water, and respect the needs of nature by safeguarding the ecological flow. The Commission will work to develop guidance on this concept and ways to calculate it. The Commission and the EEA have also developed water accounts that will give water managers a more realistic picture of water availability.
Despite the progress achieved under legislation on nitrates, waste water treatment, industrial emissions, priority substances and plant protection products, full implementation of this legislation is still required, so the Commission will continue enforcement action in these areas. EU financial support is also available to complement Member State and private-sector long-term investment in these areas.
The Blueprint emphasises the role water efficiency can play in reducing scarcity and water stress. Water pricing based on volumetric metering is a powerful tool to increase water efficiency and although pricing is a legal requirement under the WFD, its full potential is not yet realised. The Commission will continue to enforce requirements while working to improve the methodology for an adequate cost-recovery that includes environmental costs. In addition, the Commission proposes to develop a common methodology for water efficiency targets, which, where relevant, should be integrated into RBMPs.
In agriculture, the Commission’s proposal on CAP pillar II (rural development) envisages support for improving irrigation efficiency, if a reduction in water use is implemented. For buildings, the Commission proposes to include water-related products in the Eco-design Working Plan, a cost-efficient solution that could have major co-benefits for energy reduction.
The Commission will also consider developing a regulatory instrument setting EU-wide standards for water re-use to improve the take up of this alternative water supply. This would help alleviate water scarcity and reduce vulnerability.
The Blueprint refers to a need to integrate a concern for water into other policy areas. How could this work in practice?
A range of cross-cutting instruments will support the implementation of the measures planned in the Blueprint. The Innovation Partnerships on Water and on Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability will support the testing and dissemination of innovative solutions by helping to match innovation supply with demand. The hydro-economic model developed by the Commission Joint Research Centre will help water managers assess the cost-effectiveness of the measures included in their RBMPs. Developing the Water Information System for Europe (WISE) and making it more interoperable will make it easier for decision makers to access essential information. A peer-review system will be available to facilitate mutual learning in the development of the River Basin Management Plans. If the Commission’s current CAP proposal is agreed, the addition of specific requirements under the Water Framework Directive to the cross-compliance mechanism will provide strong incentives to respect those requirements. Lastly, the Commission could make country-specific recommendations for Member States as part of the European Semester process, to identify economic and water environment win-win actions.
The Blueprint proposes a number of new voluntary tools. Why should these succeed where legislation has failed?
The Blueprint is a strategic document that pulls together both existing tools and planned initiatives. The proposed guidance documents and technical tools are intended to fill knowledge and capacity gaps in the Member States, and while they should improve the quality of water management and the implementation of legislation, they will not replace legal obligations.
Making state-of-the-art tools available at an EU level should create economies of scale, facilitating large-scale knowledge sharing. This being said, the Blueprint emphasises that the Commission will continue to enforce current legal obligations, and will make available incentives to foster compliance under EU funds while cross-compliance and other conditionalities to access such funds should apply.
New regulation is only envisaged in limited areas, where gaps have been shown to exist. Additional legislative proposals may appear in the future if deemed appropriate, regarding metering, green infrastructure and water efficiency targets, for example.
Has the Commission considered the monitoring and reporting burden?
Yes. This is why the Blueprint contains proposals to harmonise reporting requirements under water-related directives, while improving the reporting on water statistics.
Does the Commission want to set water pricing at EU level?
No – prices are set by Member States. But EU Member States are obliged (by the Water Framework Directive) to put in place systems that ensure that pricing policies give an incentive to use water more efficiently. Pricing may of course take into account social, environmental and economic effects of cost recovery.
Does the Commission want to impose metering everywhere? Including in all households?
There is no such requirement under EU law. It is however difficult to respect the Water Framework Directive requirements for permits for water abstractions and for water pricing that encourage efficiency if water use is not metered.
Will the European Parliament and Council formally endorse the Blueprint?
The Blueprint actually is a package composed of several elements:
a) The "Blueprint" Communication (accompanied by its impact assessment)
b) A Communication on the Review of the EU policy on Water Scarcity and Droughts (accompanied by an in depth assessment in a Commission Staff Working Document)
c) A Commission Report to the Council and European Parliament on the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (accompanied by a European overview of the assessment of Member States' River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) + 28 individual assessments for each Member State's set of RBMPs and Norway).
The "Blueprint" Communication pulls together all the Commission policy proposals based on the extensive assessments contained in the other documents.
The Cyprus Presidency of the EU is planning the adoption of Council Conclusions in December and the Parliament might want to develop a resolution.
How will the Commission ensure the implementation and follow up of the Blueprint?
Much of the implementation and monitoring of the Blueprint proposals will be carried out through the Water Framework Directive Common Implementation Strategy. This is an open and participatory process involving the Member States and all stakeholders that wish to be involved. The Commission will develop and regularly update a scoreboard to check progress on implementation. The Water Framework Directive must be reviewed and possibly revised by 2019. When preparing this review, the Commission will take stock of the implementation of all aspects of the Blueprint and, if necessary, propose amendments to the Directive to facilitate the achievement of its objectives. Such amendments could transform some of the non-binding proposals contained in the Blueprint into legally binding requirements, should the voluntary approach prove insufficient.
What is the time horizon of the Blueprint?
The Blueprint is closely related to the EU 2020 Strategy, and the Resource Efficiency Roadmap. The Blueprint will be the water milestone on that Roadmap. The analysis underpinning the Blueprint covers a longer time span, up to 2050.
What is the link between the Blueprint and the EU 2020 Strategy?
Protecting Europe's water resources contributes to all 3 dimensions of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Developing efficient water management goes hand in hand with fostering innovation and knowledge (smart growth) in water-related fields, increasing EU competitiveness. Water supply and management sectors already represent 32 % of EU eco-industries value added and EU companies hold more than 25 % of the world market share in water management2. This competitive advantage can be strengthened by the objective of further improving EU water status, as an incentive to develop innovative water solutions.
Working towards ensuring availability of good quality water for all users contributes to the sustainable growth of the EU, promoting a more resource efficient, greener and more competitive economy. Indeed, efficient water management not only generates economic benefits (in terms of productivity gains for water-using companies and innovation potentials for water management companies) but also contributes to decreasing health impacts and preserving ecosystem services, hence saving tremendous costs for private and public entities.
Finally, efficient water management can help bring about inclusive growth, fostering a high-employment economy while delivering economic, social and territorial cohesion. In terms of employment, waste water treatment and water supply sectors represent up to 34 % of EU eco-industry employment3 and are a growing potential sector around the EU. Improving the status of EU waters is also socially inclusive – access for all users to good quality waters at a fair price (reflecting the amount consumed and the environmental impact) would jointly deliver social, economic and environmental benefits.
How has the Commission ensured the involvement of stakeholders in the preparation of the Blueprint?
The Commission consulted widely. The stakeholder consultation took place since the early stages through the Common Implementation Strategy. A stakeholder conference (the 3rd EU Water Conference) took place at the end of May 2012 to discuss draft policy options and two 12-weeks public consultations took place in the first part of 2012.
See also IP/12/1216
EEA 2010 State of the Environment Report (SOER), Water, key messages.
Which themselves employ around 3.4 million people, ie around 1.5% of all Europeans in employment, more than in car manufacturing, chemicals or textiles