Industry lobby wants EU water protection directive to be diluted

The Water Framework Directive, adopted in 2000, aims to protect the approximately 110,000 surface water bodies in the EU and to achieve consistently good water quality by 2027 at the latest. [glen photo/ Shutterstock]

EU environment ministers will debate on Thursday (5 March) whether the EU directive on water protection is still up to date. However, the European industry lobby is trying to influence ministers to change the directive, according to a leaked letter seen by EURACTIV Germany.

Environment ministers from EU27 will meet in Brussels to discuss, among other things, the evaluation of the European Water Framework Directive.

In a letter sent on 27 February by lobby organisation BusinessEurope to Croatian Environment Minister Tomislav Ćorić, which was made available to EURACTIV, the association stressed that the European Commission’s current position on the Water Directive does not match the ambitions laid out in the European Green Deal and needs to be amended.

According to them, stringent water protection regulations would obstruct construction projects that are in the interest of climate protection, according to the letter.

“We, therefore, call on you to investigate the matter further,” the document wrote.

The current basic premise of the Water Framework Directive, according to which no construction project may deteriorate the water quality of surrounding waters, is hindering “industrial improvements”, the letter stated.

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60% of the water bodies in poor condition

The background of the letter is the water directive’s two-year ‘fitness check’, which the European Commission completed in December.

According to the check, the directive is sufficiently functional and the deficits in water quality are mainly due to delayed implementation, too weak financing and insufficient interlocking with other laws, for example within the framework of the Nitrates Directive.

In short, the Commission concluded that there was no need to revise the directive but that work was needed on its implementation.

The Water Framework Directive, adopted in 2000, aims to protect the approximately 110,000 surface water bodies in the EU and to achieve consistently good water quality by 2027 at the latest.

At present, however, only 40% of the water bodies are considered healthy. Water quality is considered poor if just one of the factors is rated as bad, according to the so-called ‘one-out, all-out’ principle.

According to the Commission, the high proportion of unhealthy water bodies can be explained by the fact that exceptions have been obtained by EU member states for around half of all water bodies to implement construction projects.

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Some EU member states close to the industry’s ideas

As part of the ‘fitness check’, a public consultation took place in which thousands of scientists – and a petition signed by 375,000 citizens – spoke out against changes to the Water Protection Directive.

However, there had also been significant influence from the other side: industrial associations, mainly from Germany, came out in favour of postponing the target year 2027 and allowing more exceptions in water protection.

On top of that, they proposed to soften the basic rule that no deterioration in water quality should be tolerated in justified cases.

According to a study by the environmental protection organisation WWF, the positions of the industrial lobby were well-received in some EU member states.

Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Finland, in particular, have called for similar changes to the Water Framework Directive to avoid disadvantages for their economies, the study stressed.

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No official positions from member states

With this letter to the European environment ministers, BusinessEurope is now endeavouring to obtain changes to the Water Framework Directive, contrary to the Commission’s conclusion.

This is because the EU Commission had not clearly excluded possible changes in its evaluation, but had only insisted on better implementation.

Whether the EU member states now see the need to take action with regard to the Water Framework Directive will be discussed on Thursday.

So far, the member states have not announced any official positions, as they preferred to wait for the conclusions of the study.

A change of direction for Germany?

Yesterday’s tweet by the parliamentary state secretary, Jochen Flachsbart, suggests that Germany will now speak out against changes to the Water Framework Directive, after all. Germany’s environment ministry supports the Commission’s position, he wrote.

Environmental protection associations hope that EU member states will come to the same conclusion after their meeting tomorrow and make an official statement.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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