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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

"Turning the water challenge we face into opportunities’

Water Innovation Europe Conference

Brussels, 16 May 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we approach the end of this two-day conference allow me to thank the organisers, and all of you, for your important contributions. You could not have timed a Conference on Water Innovation in Europe better; less than a week after the adoption by the Commission of our European Innovation Partnership on Water.

Water is one of the most precious resources we have. Preserving water is about preserving life itself, it is about health and well-being, but it is also about economic growth and prosperity. It is a way of ensuring that agriculture, fisheries, transport, energy, tourism and many other industries develop and prosper. Water is certainly a 'pillar of life', but it is also a pillar of economic and social development. Yet, it is a resource that is still too often undervalued and undermined.

But of this … you are already aware. Before this audience of such experts, I do not have to explain the importance of water as a resource. … And you will also be well aware of the enormous challenges we are facing with regard to water... not only in poor and developing countries, but very much here, today, in the European Union.

While in average Europeans use between 200 and 600 litres of water per day, 20 million Europeans don't have access to quality water and safe sanitation. While Europe is considered as having adequate water resources, many of its regions, in particular in the South, suffer from low availability of water and water scarcity.

Making sure that water is available at the right quality, in the right quantity, at the right place and at the right time, is essential to our health and economic growth. But for Europe these challenges are getting harder.

We have made a lot of progress in the EU since the adoption of the first EU Directive on water. But it is not sufficient. We need to do more. And we intend to do more!

To start with…. As pressures on the earth's natural resources continue to increase, we intend to make sure that our water policy is fit to respond to present and future challenges. And this is what we intend to do with the Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources, that we plan to adopt in November. The Blueprint will set out policy responses to the challenges that have been identified in particular through the assessment of the river basin management plans of Member States, and the 'Fitness check' of our freshwater policy. The Blueprint will be the EU policy response to the increasing vulnerability of the water environment and will identify actions to strengthen water policy.

Secondly, we intend to step up our communication efforts. Europe's water use cannot increase endlessly, we need to reduce demand and ensure a more sustainable use of our waters. But for this, we need the engagement and commitment of everybody at all levels. We need to ensure that people are aware of how precious and valuable water is. This is why we have decided to prioritize water in the context of our pan-European communication campaign on resource efficiency and focus this year's – actually next week's - Green Week on water.

And lastly, we intend to turn the challenges we face into opportunities. Tackling the many challenges we face can also provide important innovation opportunities for Europe's water technology and service sectors. This is why the Commission has proposed to boost innovation through the European Innovation Partnership on Water. And this is where you can play a key role.

The European Innovation Partnership on Water focuses on finding solutions to our major water challenges; offering benefits for water protection, as well as market opportunities. European Innovation Partnerships are a new concept introduced by the Innovation Union to address societal challenges and to enhance Europe's competitiveness.

The Innovation Union places innovative products and services at the heart of economic growth. And … I am convinced … that there is enormous potential in the combination of water and innovation – both for the implementation of our water policies and because of the great economic opportunities that are available if we boost innovation in the water sector.

If we consider the challenges we are facing with regard to water and the enormous economic potential of water-related innovations, water is a logical area for an Innovation Partnership.

Environmental objectives and economic potential are both reflected in the targets of the Partnership. The targets are focussed on contributing to the implementation of EU water policy and more efficient use of available resources. The Partnership also sets targets in respect of competitive benefits, in particular with regard to growth in eco-industries.

The Innovation Partnership on Water takes a very wide approach. Often innovation is confused with research and technology… Don't get me wrong…. It's not that I do not consider research and technology as key elements and drivers for innovation. On the contrary. That would be a bit strange after spending five productive years in the R&D portfolio!

But, in our concept of the Innovation Partnership, we need to ensure a "problem-oriented" approach. We need to define the key challenges for which we will need innovative solutions. And from that perspective consider which disciplines are needed to foster the solutions.

In some areas there may be a need for innovation in governance, systems or management. Or perhaps for innovative financing mechanisms that can bring existing solutions to the market. Or in new market mechanisms and demand stimulation. Or, indeed, there may be a need for further research or technology development. Or perhaps all of the above.

The key – however – is to first identify what is needed and what already exists. That is the reason why it is extremely important to include existing initiatives into the work and governance structure of the Innovation Partnership on Water. These initiatives include for example the European Technology Platforms and the Joint Programming Initiatives… This structure will allow us to create synergies and prevent overlaps.

An important objective of the Partnership is to better link innovation supply and demand in fostering the development of innovative solutions. Many of the existing European initiatives are currently focussed on the supply side of innovation. The Partnership will try to ensure that this supply side is complemented with demand side measures.

The idea of a Partnership is to work together. This means that those who own the problems need to become connected to those who can provide the solutions.

And at the same time, we need to ensure that those who are capable of developing the solutions will be encouraged and facilitated to actually do so. Too often, there are many barriers that stand in the way of developing innovative solutions. These barriers can be for example of legislative or financial nature… we will therefore need to identify which are currently the barriers that stand in the way of innovation and propose ways to break through these barriers.

From there, we need to ensure that these innovative solutions can be disseminated and can be successfully brought to the market, in Europe and outside. This will allow us to achieve the economic growth we are trying to support and create the possibility to use the different solutions available to better implement our policies.

These are tasks that will not be easy to achieve. This of course you - more than anyone - understand well.

I can assure you that the European Commission is committed to make the Innovation Partnership a success. But the work can absolutely not be done without your input and commitment. This is an initiative that absolutely requires the support and participation of everybody. Because to succeed we need to hear from those who are most closely involved what the needs are, what the priorities are and where we can make the biggest added value with our Partnership.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Water is a precious resource that we cannot take for granted. We need to be sure that we can continue to provide safe, available and affordable water for all. We in the Commission can define the policies, ensure that the legislation is well implemented, raise awareness on the importance of water and create the basis to boost and promote innovation … but you will need to do the rest.

The European Innovation Partnership on Water will accelerate the development and application of innovative solutions while simultaneously positioning Europe as a world leader in water technology and services

The Project Innovation Awards of the International Water Association you presented yesterday evening are an excellent reminder of how big the innovative potential in solutions for water challenges is. There are so many excellent ideas out there! What we need is to ensure that they can be transformed into tangible realities, replicated and scaled up. And for this… we need to be innovative ourselves in how we make this possible.

I look forward to our continued cooperation and commitment to place innovation at the heart of the solutions to deal with our water challenges and take the many opportunities it brings.

Thank you for your attention.

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