Water blueprint to focus on enforcement, not new laws
The European Union's water blueprint, due by the end of the year, will focus on enforcement and implementation of laws already on the books rather than new legislation, says a Cypriot official whose government will host talks later in the year on the evolving water roadmap.
Christina Pantazi, a Cypriot official whose county holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said discussions held this summer in Nicosia between EU environment ministers called for implementing legislation – including the water framework, nitrates and groundwater directives – rather than making sweeping new proposals.
“Everybody agrees that we do not need new legislation on water,” Pantazi told EurActiv yesterday (20 September) on the sidelines of a water conference, hosted by the Eurelectric trade group.
“Water is a priority for Cyprus,” she said, with the country facing droughts that pose supply problems for agriculture and domestic needs.
Pantazi, environment attaché in the Cypriot mission to the EU, said there was broad agreement that the emphasis should be on ensuring compliance amid criticism that national governments have been too slow in implementing some of the EU’s landmark laws on water.
The European Commission is expected to table a ‘Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources’ by mid-November. Cyprus is to host a conference on the proposals at the end of November, with the European Council’s conclusions due before the end of the year.
The blueprint – in effect a mandatory review the EU’s water legislation – is aimed at improving efficiency, security of supply and strengthening enforcement. It also aims to integrate EU policies to improve conservation in agricultural and cohesion programmes.
Conservation groups, including the European Environment Bureau, have criticised the EU and national governments for failing to enforce water efficiency and pollution policies. In 2006, the EEB and another campaign organisation, the WWF, filed a complaint with the European Commission against Austria, Germany, Poland and eight other countries, charging that they failed to comply with provisions of the 2000 Water Framework Directive.
In May, the EEB acknowledged in an analysis of the forthcoming blueprint that while the Water Framework Directive “has helped to keep water issues on the political agenda” and improved transboundary cooperation, it “has achieved little progress” in the areas of integrating water with energy, transportation and farming policies.”
The group also argued that frequent exemptions granted to national governments had weakened the legislation.
Some industrial and farming organisations fear more intrusive EU laws, pointing out that water needs and challenges vary widely across the EU’s 27 nations. In Mediterranean states, most freshwater is used for irrigation, while in Germany, energy cooling and production account for some 75% of water use, industry figures show.
More than 11% of Europeans and 17% of Europe's territory have been affected by water scarcity in recent years, the Commission wrote in a recent policy review, costing the EU an estimated €100 billion in damages and lost economic potential.
Water use by sector varies across the European Union – with agriculture the main consumer of freshwater in more arid regions, while energy, home and industrial consumption lead in damper climates.
Overall, households, business, hospitals and offices account for 20% of water use, according to a May 2012 report by the European Environmental Agency. Of that, flushing toilets consumes nearly one-third of water, but leakage from old pipes, commodes or public water supplies is also a big consumer.
But calls for efficiency measures are growing, and not just by policymakers. Leading water-consuming industries, including beverage and food manufacturers, are taking steps to improve efficiency to cut costs but also in the face of mounting concerns about supply security.
EEA figures show that while much of Europe has ample freshwater, parts of Spain, France, Italy, Britain, Belgium and the Baltic states along with much of Cyprus have faced stress or extreme stress in recent years – with demand exceeding supply.
- Mid-Nov.: Commission expected to table its ‘Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources’
- 26-27 Nov.: Conference on the water blueprint scheduled in Nicosia