The all-encompassing Water Framework Directive might be failing to meet its demanding objectives but the quality of our water environment is on the rise




The Water Framework Directive (WFD; 2000/60/ EC) is the European Union’s overarching framework for water policy. It obliges Member States to achieve water quality goals by 2015.

The directive aimed to improve the ecological and chemical quality (or ‘good status’) of ground and surface water (rivers, lakes, transitional waters and coastal waters) in the EU.

Despite the efforts made, the objectives will not be met, with 47% of EU water bodies covered by the directive failing to achieve the aim of good status. The reasons go well beyond the control of the water sector. Issues such as the impacts of climate change, population growth, changing customer needs and various economic factors are already having a major impact on water resources.

The directive will be reviewed by the European Commission in 2019. EurEau is preparing for this review of a key piece of legislation through a joint working group made up of technical – and other – experts on drinking water, waste water and legal and economic issues.

The directive brought many benefits despite the failure to fully meet the objectives. As a result of the measures already in place, the quality of our water environment has greatly improved. We also know much more about the status of European water bodies compared to 15 years ago.

Our knowledge of the human impact on water bodies has improved and we now have a better understanding of the different sectors’ (household, industry and agriculture) impact on water body quality status, allowing measures to be more effective and targeted.

The WFD also has increased our awareness on micropollutants and, being based on the Precautionary Principle and the Polluter-Pays Principle, it reinforces the need for the source control approach.

As well as bringing environmental and ecological benefits, the WFD has been a driver for innovation and has brought direct and indirect economic growth and jobs to Europe. Besides having an impact on water resources, agriculture, industry, manufacturing and tourism rely on, and benefit from, the protection of water resources and effective water services.

The WFD has also started to be an important driver in increasing the public understanding of the value of water.

A revision must ensure a more effective and efficient protection of the aquatic environment and water resources. This should be achieved primarily through more source-control measures and through the necessary links to other policies like the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) or the EU chemicals legislation.

This will interlink the objectives of the WFD with these corresponding and relevant policies for the sake of the water environment and water cycle.

The principle of cost recovery must also be upheld and we need to ensure customers understand the true costs and value of water.

The WFD has started the process of improving the aquatic environment. We need to use the revision process to improve the WFD’s effectiveness in the light of what has already been done.

Given the complexity and huge costs of delivering the directive’s vision, which we all share, EurEau members believe more time should be given to reach the goals of the WFD, which are not met in all countries, by extending the WFD to additional cycles.

Any revision of the WFD must align its objectives with other sectors’ legislation, such as CAP and the chemicals legislation (e.g. REACH Regulation, and regulations regarding pesticides, biocides, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics).

For EurEau members, the WFD is more than the most important EU legislative instrument for the protection of water bodies and the aquatic environment in European countries: it is the main thrust to delivering sustainable water services effectively.

As the WFD is key to all the work that EurEau members do, it is vital that we are part of the discussions. We want a robust and comprehensive system of water governance that actively protects our environment and water sources so that we will have safe, clean water to use in our homes and businesses and for our leisure.

The EurEau Joint Working Group on the Water Framework Directive: what role does EurEau play today? The European institutions and Member States have already started an informal process of evaluating the WFD, where Member States can bring case studies, good practices and outline solutions to challenges faced in the implementation of the directive.

The Water Directors have also started a discussion that will serve as a Member State’s input to the review. EurEau members have critically assessed the WFD and proposed solutions to challenging aspects of the legislation.

The three EurEau committees were heavily involved in the debate, expressing similar views.

The Joint Working Group is responsible for establishing EurEau positions on the WFD, taking into account, but not limited to, the aspects highlighted in the internal workshop held in 2015 in Milan.

Our first tasks going forward are to publish EurEau positions on ‘customers and cost recovery’ and on ‘greater EU policy coordination’.


By Anders Finnson, Chair of the EurEau Joint Working Group on the Water Framework Directive

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