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Speech - “Water: we need something better, something more and something new", Commissioner Janez Potočnik

European Commission - SPEECH/12/861   26/11/2012

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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

“Water: we need something better, something more and something new"

EU Water Blueprint Conference/Nicosia

26 November 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. On 14 November, the Commission proposed a Water Blueprint, a new strategy for the protection of Europe's water resources. This delivers one of the priorities highlighted in the Roadmap to a more Resource Efficient Europe.

  2. Our proposals are the fruit of a real collective effort of consultation and preparation. This has involved Member States, the water service sector, water-using industries, the scientific community, NGOs, the European Parliament – everyone has contributed to produce new ideas for helping EU water policy to deliver the maximum benefit for people, public authorities and businesses throughout Europe. The Commission took the responsibility for putting the ideas on the table. But, I hope that your involvement makes you feel that this is not just an EU blueprint but your blueprint as well.

  3. The package we have put forward with the Blueprint, including how the River Basin Management Plans are doing, and how we are managing to address water scarcity and drought, shows the extent of the challenge. On present trends, it is fairly clear that 47% of the EU water will fail to achieve good status by 2015.

  4. As pointed out in the report from the European Environment Agency, this is obviously not good enough to achieve the Water Framework Directive goal of good water status everywhere. The message of the Blueprint is this: we need to really step up our action a lot in order to get close to this goal. We may be some way away from achieving it, but it can be done by working together at all levels.

  5. The purpose of the Blueprint is to help you to direct your efforts where they are needed so that there will be a real impact right across Europe. Your inputs to the consultation have helped identify areas on which we think
    EU action would be most helpful.

  6. To sum up our ideas in one sentence, I could say that we need something better, something more and something new. I mean that we need to improve policy implementation (something better); increase policy integration (something more) and fill in few policy gaps (something new). Let me address these three aspects.

  7. On implementation, we already have the key legislation in place: on nitrates, waste water treatment, industrial emissions, priority substances and plant protection products. But we are not achieving our goals, so there are steps we can take to deliver improvements that people and businesses expect.

  8. There are shortcomings in water management in many parts of Europe. How to get this better? Good water management is somehow similar to managing a budget: you need to know how much money you have before you decide how to spend it. Similarly, you need to know how much water is available before you can allocate it and, when doing this, you must take into account what nature needs to deliver its benefits. The problem is that in many parts of Europe, we don't really know the full picture.

  9. So, we have started by trying to address a missing link: water accounts. The work we have done with the European Environment Agency is a good basis for addressing the real issue: how can we make sure that the water balances in each river basin are within sustainable limits? In other words, that we have a proper ecological flow of water that maintains the services provided by our water ecosystems. In the Blueprint, we have tried to bring together the concept of water balances and ecological flows. But we need to improve the data and produce common understanding of ecological flow. After that, we can develop a sound methodology to implement water efficiency targets in the river basins in which they are useful.

  10. Another aspect tackled by the Blueprint is the issue of water pricing and cost recovery, including environmental costs. At the moment, this policy isn't working: we have methodological hurdles which have prevented improvements in water efficiency. We want to develop with you a common methodology for cost-recovery calculation which allows for comparable results throughout the Union and duly takes into account ecosystem services. We also think that water metering should be generalised. We hope that strides can be made in this respect under the provisions on irrigation efficiency in the reforms we have proposed for future Rural Development.

  11. Four additional implementation tools are proposed in the Blueprint.

  1. First, the establishment of a peer review process
    to allow river basin authorities to evaluate the management plans developed by others with a view to learning from each other and spreading good practices. We think this will help us bring into the Common Implementation Strategy more of the colleagues involved in the day to day water management at river basin level.

  2. Second, we should rely more on satellite technology to fight against illegal abstraction in the Member States where this is a real plague. This can be done through the GMES system. Satellite mapping of river basins will allow a comparison between visibly irrigated areas and water abstraction permits. On this basis, inspections could be targeted to areas where problems have been identified.

  3. Third, we could develop guidance on water-trading in order to facilitate the take-up of this tool at river basin level when this would prove cost-effective.

  4. Fourth, we should spread best practices to establish sustainable leakage levels for water infrastructure. We have a situation now where in some parts of Europe, leakages in municipal water infrastructures have been cut to 7%, while in others they are at 50%. The water industry has a key role to play in this and we look forward to cooperating with it.

  1. All of these areas are particularly promising for innovation. Innovation to get better public policies, but also to encourage the private sector to take ideas to market. The European water industry has a good competitive position at the moment, with about one third of the entire world market in water services. But this is not guaranteed to last. We need to make sure that we remain competitive in a market which is on track to double in size by 2030. That is one of the reasons why the Commission has just launched an Innovation Partnership in water. Stimulating private investment in improving water services is increasingly needed.

  2. The implementation instruments I have outlined will not fully deliver if we do not do something more. We must act to include water policy objectives much more into other policies.

  3. In this respect, agriculture is essential. The Blueprint identifies natural green infrastructures such as floodplains, wetlands or buffer strips along river banks, as well as farmers complying with water policy, as key measures to be supported by agricultural policy.

  4. The Commission proposals on the reform of the CAP offer good opportunities for this, and we need strong support from Council and Parliament to make them a success.

  5. The Blueprint also highlights the need for water management priorities to be included more strongly in the Cohesion and Structural Funds and loans of the European Investment Bank. Member States who want to finance projects in the water sector from Cohesion funds should have a river basin management plan in place as well as a proper pricing policy.

  6. Compliance with EU legislation is an essential part of delivering better water status, and the Commission will play its full role in that.

  7. In the Blueprint preparatory process, we also looked to see if something new is needed in water policy. We agree with the vast majority of stakeholders that our legislation is well developed and extensive. But there are two main areas where progress is needed: water efficiency in buildings and water re-use.

  8. We are of course conscious that there should not be a one-size-fits-all approach to very different situations in the Member States. Therefore, we propose to focus on adding value at EU level.

  1. First, in the Eco-design Directive, we will look into options to make products more water and energy efficient. This will not only achieve considerable water resource savings but also create opportunities for economic growth and new jobs.

  2. Second, we will work on setting EU quality standards for water re-use. A set of quality standards could address public fears, for example, about food grown with re-used water. This would help alleviate pressure in water-stressed areas.

  1. Finally, there are additional measures which underpin and reinforce the Blueprint.

  1. I already highlighted the Water Innovation Partnership. We will be working with stakeholders to agree a Strategic Implementation Plan by the end of the year. I would also like to make sure that we identify a few "quick wins" for innovation which would be ready within a year.

  2. We are also working to strengthen resource efficiency in economic policy under the European Semester. Given the importance of the water-sector for growth and jobs, we can identify some measures on water-efficiency which can help avoid unnecessary public subsidies as well as promoting opportunities for innovation in the sector.

  3. Third, given the problem of illegal abstraction of water, we will look into options to reinforce inspections, for instance in relation to water abstraction permits.

  4. Fourth, the Blueprint also puts considerable emphasis on the knowledge base for water policy. We propose to continue developing the Water Information System for Europe (WISE) to link it better with national data bases and facilitate decision-makers' access to essential information. And the Joint Research Centre's hydro-economic model can help water managers assess the cost-effectiveness of the measures included in their River Basin Management Plans. We look forward to refining this with you so that it can become a great help for all water managers.

  5. When looking at the knowledge base and information handling, we also need to work with you to simplify reporting requirements to focus on the key statistics that are most useful for water managers.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. Water is as vital as the air we breathe. But as Marq de Villiers wrote in his award winning book "Water": "The trouble with water –and there is trouble with water – is that they're not making any more of it…" "Humans consume water, discard it, poison it, waste it, and restlessly change the hydrological cycles, indifferent to the consequences."

  2. Today with our Blueprint, we are telling Mr de Villiers that he is wrong: the EU does care about its water resources.

  3. This is not just an environmental necessity. The EU needs to focus on green growth and become more resource efficient to achieve sustainable recovery from the current economic and environmental crisis while adapting to climate change.

  4. As you can see, our policy proposals are wide-ranging. Now we look forward to working with you to turn them into action as soon as possible.

  5. I thank you for your attention and I wish you a fruitful continuation of the conference.


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