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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

European waters

Conference "Future of European Waters"

Gödöllő (Budapest), 25 March 2011

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to thank the Hungarian Presidency of the European Union and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for organising this event – and for inviting me to speak.

Summing-up an event is sometimes easier than starting it. I have the luxury of knowing what's been said…or not said!

One thing is certain: the conference has shown what is most important with regard to the sustainability and vulnerability of our water. It has also strengthened that crucial connection between science and policy – a dialogue we need to improve in the management of this one of our most valuable but increasingly scarce resources.

This conference has been an important step in the lead up to the 6th World Water Forum to be held in March next year and to the Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Waters that the European Commission will present at the end of 2012.

The EU has a fully developed water policy. Over the years, this has gradually shifted from a focus on health, such as on the quality of drinking water, to the environmental impacts of major water users like agriculture, industry and households.

And since 2000, with the adoption of the Water Framework Directive, water policy has evolved even further – to an integrated approach based on the concept of river basin management, aimed at achieving good status of all EU waters by 2015.

However, as the European Environment Agency has recently pointed out1, we have not achieved all we want to when it comes to water policies…problems include water pollution, water abstraction, land use and of course the impact of climate change. They are often the cause of major ecological problems, related to both water quality and quantity.

This raises the question….how then should we adjust EU water policy? Let's reflect on some of the suggestions you made during the conference:

Your first consideration was that we need to think about all of our activity as part of the widest picture of land and water uses. 'Silo policies' won't work - we need an integrated sustainable land use policy considered within Member State catchments.

Integration is most crucial with agriculture, and this is why I will continue to work closely with my colleague, Commissioner Ciolos, to ensure that the protection of water as a public good is part and parcel of the revised Common Agricultural Policy.

Agriculture and water policy must benefit rural communities. This could mean extending cross-compliance obligations to encompass wider legal water objectives. But we don't want to look only at enforcement. Farmers can be supported to protect water resources, by encouraging more crop diversity or preserving wetlands and riparian areas, for example.

It was also proposed that more action is needed on 'green-infrastructure', including a number of ecosystem based measures. Land-use that helps prevent and mitigate extreme events through natural water retention measures such as reforestation, floodplain restoration, soil management or sustainable urban drainage. These are cost-efficient policy options which offer the additional benefits of biodiversity protection, climate change mitigation and adaptation, job creation, and better territorial policy.

Here, integration can help us again - we should take advantage of both the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy and next Multiannual Financial Perspectives to support the take up of green infrastructure including through Regional policy, Structural and Cohesion Funds.

We also need stronger implementation. The recently adopted river basin management plans show that we are far away from the “good status” of EU waters by 2015.

We need greater political support to help us meet the ambition of the current plans, no more postponements and adequate investment.

We also know that public funding won't be enough. We will need an appropriate pricing policy under the Water Framework Directive to incentivize efficient water use and recover costs from all the main users' categories.

We must have a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis for water management and investment in pollution control, by integrating water-related ecosystem services. If we don't do this, precious additional funds won't be spent in the right way.

This conference has shown us that we need better and more relevant water-related research. Science and policy have to speak to each other if we hope to make decisions based on evidence. We need to disseminate knowledge and interpret research results better – this will need the right kind of new partnerships.

You spoke about governance. Good governance is crucial in managing water sustainably.

Each system has to fit its own local conditions, within its river basin, the central point for water policy definition and implementation. Good governance should be flexible in order to react to a changing environment, in particular due to climate change. This requires careful monitoring of the status of water resources and of the impacts of policies and measures.

I've given you a flavour of the conference's most important highlights as I see them.

Our own policy response to these challenges will arrive as the 2012 Blueprint to Safeguard Europe's Water. Its overall objective will be to put in place a policy that will ensure good quality water, in sufficient quantities, for all legitimate uses. This is closely aligned to the aims and the timing of the EU 2020 strategy. And 2020 will be the water milestone on the Resource Efficiency Roadmap we are planning to adopt later this year.

However, the Blueprint doesn't stop in 2020. It has a longer view, taking it up to 2050. Let me sketch out what I mean…

The Blueprint's policy recommendations will be underpinned by:

  • What we will find in our assessments of Member States River Basin Management Plans;

  • The review of the policy on Water Scarcity and Drought, and

  • The assessment of the vulnerability of water resources to climate change and other man made pressures.

As you can expect from what I have already said, the Blueprint will show how we want to integrate water with other polices. This will mean improving water resource efficiency and by managing trade-offs through a better understanding of the costs and benefits of both economic activities and water resources management.

The Blueprint will encourage a move towards what we call 'prevention and preparedness'. The thinking is that this will ensure a sustainable balance between water demand and supply, taking into account the needs of both people and the natural ecosystems they depend on.

It's likely to give us the first indications for water efficiency targets at EU level, taking into account the great variety of different contexts across economic sectors and geographical areas. All of this will not be possible of course until we are able to measure the gap between water demand and water availability. To that end, the European Environment Agency is now working on water and ecosystem accounts, which will give us the information on which we can base our EU targets over the long term.

The Blueprint is broad and ambitious. It will set out measures that can be widely introduced across the EU. Things like green infrastructure which I have already mentioned, for example, which could include the reforestation or the restoration of floodplains, soil management and sustainable urban drainage systems. And it will create incentives to avoid wastage and encourage investment in innovative technologies as well as improving water efficiency and addressing issues such as pricing, taxation and the removal of harmful subsidies.

It also looks at the water of tomorrow as a global issue. Here, the Blueprint will reinforce our commitment in helping to deal with these pressures as well as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and in the follow-up to Rio+20.

In a nutshell, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel because the main policy and legislative framework is already in place. The Blueprint is not meant to evaluate the need to change the water-focused legislation. This would be premature as our Directives have not fully delivered their outcomes yet. We also want to go beyond the mere reviews of our Directives. The Blueprint will be about: better implementation, better integration and better completion.

It may sound simple, but as you well know, the simplest things are the hardest to achieve.

Ladies and Gentlemen

To this audience today, the scope, need and ambition of our Blueprint should be obvious. It is a 'big ask', as they say in sport, but it is what we need to make our policy fit for the future.

I am confident however, that with your help and with our joint desire to get the job done, we are going to achieve our objectives.

1 :

State Of the European Environment Report (SOER) 2010

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