Posted on 28 November 2018
WWF calls on countries to safeguard Water Framework Directive ahead of critical water meeting in Vienna
As Water Directors from all EU Member States gather in Vienna to discuss the future of EU water legislation, WWF urges them not to endorse a controversial paper developed by a group of government officials
The proposed changes outlined in this document would constitute a significant weakening of Europe’s strong water law, the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) – and, if ever put into effect, a serious blow to Europe’s already vulnerable rivers, lakes and freshwater wildlife.
The WFD is currently undergoing its standard review in the form of a ‘fitness check’ led by the European Commission. However, rather than contributing to this official, transparent process, officials from some Member States are undermining it – meeting behind closed doors to discuss the future of the legislation and prematurely concluding, with no proper evaluation, that the legislation is not fit for purpose and should be revised.
This conclusion, together with a series of proposed options for changing this law, which includes delaying the action needed to bring Europe’s waters to good status by several years, are outlined in the paper.
“Although framed as a ‘discussion paper’, the document’s phrasing, and the highly secretive nature in which it has been developed, seems to already present definite answers rather than open questions,” said Martina Mlinaric, Senior Water Policy Officer at WWF’s European Policy Office. “It fleshes out options that, if approved, would seriously undermine Europe’s ambitious water protection.”
“The people behind the paper argue that the WFD needs to be changed to maintain ambition in water management in Europe post-2027, but we see through this tactic: granting themselves more time and flexibility would lead to continued procrastination and avoidance. Our rivers and lakes simply cannot withstand another two decades of inaction,” added Mlinaric.
Member States’ poor, unambitious implementation of the WFD resulted in them completely missing their initial objective of bringing all waters to good status by 2015. This was then extended to 2027, which was a deadline originally intended for exceptional cases only.
Those behind the paper will try to use the meeting in Vienna on 29 November to receive official endorsement from all Water Directors, who represent their national governments on all issues related to water management. In a letter issued to Water Directors, WWF and its partners of the Living Rivers Europe coalition strongly urge Member States not to endorse this paper.
The meeting comes as over 140,000 people have expressed their support
for the WFD through the ongoing public consultation – all part of a pan-European #ProtectWater campaign involving WWF and 100 other NGOs.
“Member States have had 18 years to make this legislation work and, where implemented, the WFD has yielded some good results. The verdict from this group of government officials that the WFD is not fit for purpose is a weak cover-up for their failures,” said Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office.
“Their behaviour seriously undermines the Commission’s objective and transparent process of evaluation. Opting to do so at a time that the public and stakeholder consultations have just started short-circuits the process and diminishes the role of the Commission, stakeholders, and citizens,” added Baumuller.
Whilst Member States are free to discuss what they want, these meetings deviate significantly from the established Common Implementation Strategy
(CIS) process, which was designed to involve all Member States, the Commission and relevant stakeholders (such as industry and environmental NGOs), and ultimately support Member States with implementing the Directive.
The content of the paper or issues raised have never been discussed with the stakeholders, and as such cannot possibly be endorsed by the Water Directors, who represent the highest decision-making body of the CIS process.