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European Commission - Statement

Joint statement by Vice-President Katainen, Commissioner Hogan and Commissioner Vella on World Water Day

Brussels, 21 March 2017

On World Water Day the European Commission promotes innovative water reuse, which is good for jobs, farms and the environment.

On 22 March 2017, we celebrate World Water Day.

We celebrate water. We have done so since 1993 when the United nations General Assembly designated the 22nd March as the World Water Day.

Water is the source of life. It is essential for human health, to the natural environment and a precious resource for many sectors of the economy, where output and jobs in areas such as agriculture, navigation and energy production are often strongly water-dependent. As we celebrate, we have to remember the role water has regarding global stability and climate change and our responsibility therein.

Delivering on Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development both in the EU and internationally cannot be done without a strong water policy. Sustainable Development Goal 6 is devoted to water, and water is relevant to many other goals and targets. This is a challenge to public authorities, private companies and citizens. All of us.

The European Union has a strong framework for water. The multiple uses of water and the multiple pressures on it, necessitate its integrated management within river basins – which are core principles of EU water policy since the Water Framework Directive was adopted in 2000. Not long ago, swimming in many of our surface waters was not an option and many rivers and seas were biologically in a very poor state due to pollution from humans and industry. Over the past decades, thanks to appropriate regulatory action, billions of Euros of investment, and the efforts of millions of people working together, EU citizens can enjoy clean drinking and bathing waters, while threatened iconic fish like salmon are returning to some waters.

However, significant challenges remain: there is over-abstraction of our groundwater in 60% of our cities, 25% of groundwater has a poor chemical status, and by the last count almost half of our water bodies did not meet the EU objective of good ecological status by 2015. Pressures from land based sources are increasing on our oceans leading to an accumulation of marine litter, problems of eutrophication or high concentrations of contaminants.

We are determined to move towards a more circular economy and manage our resources, including water, more sustainably and efficiently. More investment is needed to make it happen, particularly in new, innovative solutions. Creation of innovative water systems holds significant potential to boost the competitiveness and growth of the European water sector, which already employs around a million people in Europe. Reducing the unsustainable amounts of food waste has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of water waste, given the dependence of food production on water. There is also potential for growth in other water-related sectors (water-using industries, water technology development, urban water infrastructure, etc.) where innovation can increase operational efficiency and open new markets. High European standards for drinking water, bathing water and waste water treatment have allowed the development a strong EU water industry – the two global leaders are EU-based and have a combined turnover of 20 billion euros.

Agriculture is dependent on water for the production of food and rural jobs. Yet, nutrients and pesticides from agriculture also contribute to low water standards and abstraction for irrigation in some areas is beyond sustainable limits. We are working together to identify how through better use and integration of existing tools we can ensure both sustainable water management and sustainable agriculture. For the future, the European Commission has launched a public consultation on the future of the Common Agriculture Policy.

In 2017, the European Commission will propose to revise the Drinking Water Directive. This is the Commission's answer to the first European Citizen Initiative. Maintaining high drinking water standards is a necessity for public health but will also keep the EU ahead in technological development, competitiveness and innovation. The European Commission will also make a proposal to encourage further uptake of reused urban waste water for agriculture and to recharge groundwater aquifers, showing that circular economy can be concretely deployed in many economic sectors with win-win solutions. This fits perfectly with the 2017 World Water Day theme: Water and Waste Water.

The European Commission is reconfirming its commitment to an ambitious water policy and is ready to further strengthen its impacts.

See also Declaration on World Water Day by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini. 


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