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Victory for water! EU law passes 'fitness test'

Thursday, 25 June 2020

The Water Framework Directive is here to stay

One of the EU’s most ambitious and holistic pieces of environmental legislation – the Water Framework Directive (WFD) – will not be changed.

The WWF heralded the news as a “landmark” day for Europe’s rivers, lakes and wetlands.

The decision comes six months after the law was concluded to be “fit-for-purpose”, following a thorough two-year evaluation. ,

Over the course of this process, more than 375,000 citizens demanded that the law be kept in its current form and better implemented by their governments.

The message from the European Commission is clear: the WFD is here to stay, in its current form.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU’s Commissioner for environment, ocean and fisheries, confirmed to Politico the need to focus on supporting implementation and enforcement "without changing the directive".

Challenges to implementation

The WFD set the target of having 100 per cent of the EU's freshwater ecosystems in good health by 2027 at the very latest, up from just 40 per cent currently.

The EU must meet this target but implementation from Member States has been weak and political will to make the law work in practice low, WWF said.

Furthermore, data from the European Environment Agency in 2018 showed that 60 per cent of EU fresh waters are currently not healthy and fail to meet the WFD’s standards.

Since the launch of the fitness check, the WFD has received public support from hundreds of thousands of EU citizens and scientists.

The critical role of the WFD in halting the decline in freshwater biodiversity was highlighted in a letter from close to 6,000 scientists, which was sent to the Commission at the end of last year.

“Full implementation of the Water Framework Directive is vital in reversing this trend, and in protecting the diversity of life and processes that freshwater ecosystems support,” said Steven Weiss, associate professor at the Institute of Zoology, Karl-Franzens University of Graz and signatory of the letter from scientists.

The WFD also has the public support of a group of businesses, who have urged the Commission and EU Member States to preserve this groundbreaking law in its current form.

River Basin Management Plans

Ester Asin, director of WWF’s European Policy Office, said: “Good legislation is not something to be tampered with. The EU needs the Water Framework Directive to safeguard its water supply, halt and reverse biodiversity loss and tackle climate change.”

However, she added that “better implementation needs to start right now”, with 2027 only “right around the corner”.

The European Commission must now work with all relevant stakeholders to fast-track implementation and ensure that the WFD’s objectives are reached by 2027 at the very latest.

Member States will need to pull out all the stops in the next cycle of River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs).

Ensuring resilient water

"The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the importance of healthy ecosystems as insurance against pandemics, in addition to the countless other benefits that healthy, resilient water environments provide,” said Sergiy Moroz, policy manager for water and biodiversity at the European Environmental Bureau.

Moroz added: “The gaps in the implementation of this law that the two-year evaluation highlighted will need to be addressed while putting in place the European Green Deal."

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