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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Achieving good ecological status of EU water bodies by 2015

Thematic session on the Water Framework Directive (at the World Water Forum)

Marseilles, 13 March 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to contribute to your debate.

"How to achieve good status of Europe's waters by 2015?" This is the question you are asked to answer in this session. I like it because it is very concrete and solution-oriented. But it is far from being an easy question.

Recent reports, including reports from the European Environment Agency, have shown that, despite progress made over the past decades, we still have problems linked to both water quality and water quantity. These are actually two sides of the same coin.

If it is true that we need more tools to improve water efficiency and to address challenges like scarcity, droughts, floods, climate change, demographic developments and rising demand for food and energy. It is also true that we need to protect water ecosystems and the services they provide, from pollution and physical changes.

Luckily, we're not starting from scratch. We have good legislation in place. At the core of which is the Water Framework Directive ... with its underlying principle of 'integrated river basin management', and the overarching objective of achieving good status of all waters by 2015. But what do we need in order to make it a full success?

If we want to achieve the 2015 objective, there are 3 things that we need to do:

First, improve the implementation of current EU water policy by making full use of the opportunities provided by the current framework.

Second, foster the integration of water with other policies such as agriculture, fisheries, transport and energy as well as funding. We have to manage the trade-offs between these policies with a better understanding of the costs and benefits of economic activities and water resources management.

And third - where needed - we need to fill the gaps of the current framework, especially in relation to the tools necessary to increase water efficiency.

As you are probably aware, shortly after I was appointed Commissioner for the Environment, I designated 2012 as the "European year of water" and I committed to take a fresh look at our water policy and provide it with new political impetus.

This is what we are trying to achieve with our "Blueprint to Safeguard Europe's Water Resources", planned for November 2012.

The fact that I am here to speak about the Blueprint several months before its adoption, is already a clear sign of the great interest it has raised throughout our continent. And now it is time to deliver concrete proposals!

No later than this week, we will launch a public consultation on the policy options for the Blueprint. This will provide everyone with a more precise picture of what we are planning and an opportunity to shape the process.

We are looking at a wide range of measures, such as:

  • water balances and accounts for all river basins,

  • water efficiency targets,

  • water scarcity and droughts indicators,

  • standards for water re-use and water-using devices,

  • improved implementation of the "polluter pays" principle through water-pricing and better economic analysis,

  • reinforcing river basin governance;

  • improving water statistics and shared information systems on water, and

  • integrating water objectives in EU funding policies.

At the same time, and as a complement to the "Blueprint", next month we are planning to put forward a proposal for an "Innovation Partnership on Water" focusing on finding solutions to water challenges that offer benefits for water protection, as well as market opportunities.

But, I will stop here, and let my colleagues tell you more about our ideas in the course of today's discussions … discussions that I am certain… will bring an important contribution to our work.

Let me conclude by stressing that to achieve our 2015 objective, we need - most of all - political will and the financial support that normally accompanies it.

These are difficult times, and governments need to find ways to save money. But, this needs to be done with great care. Protecting water is a way of ensuring that agriculture, fisheries, transport, energy, tourism and many other industries develop and prosper. We must not underestimate its importance.

You are already, or can become, Europe's ambassadors for "water", the "key actors" that can make achieving good water status in Europe ... possible. We can only succeed if we work closely together…. and if … … we insist in underlining the importance of "water" in the political discourse to make sure it is taken into account in all policy areas.

I wish you a fruitful debate and thank you very much for your attention.

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