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Europe’s waterways deteriorating but handful of cases buck trend, report finds

It’s not too late to turn the tide on the unhealthy state of Europe’s freshwater ecosystems if politicians across the EU make water protection a top priority – according to a new report published today.

The report was drawn up by the Living Rivers coalition – made up of the European Anglers Alliance, the European Environmental Bureau, the European Rivers Network, Wetlands International and WWF – and includes cases where flagship EU water protection rules are being used to effectively address the biggest pressures on freshwater ecosystems.

These cases buck the general trend however, as overall the EU’s Water Framework Directive – adopted back in 2000 with the aim of protecting and restoring the EU’s rivers, coasts and aquifers by 2027 – is not being adequately implemented by EU governments.

In its latest water assessment, the European Environment Agency (EEA) stated that pressures such as pollution from agriculture and industry, over-abstraction, and hydropower have all rendered the majority of Europe’s rivers, lakes and surface water bodies unable to adequately support wildlife and provide vital flood protection.

The Water Framework Directive will be evaluated in a so-called ‘Fitness Check’ this year and a public consultation is expected to begin at the beginning of October. The results of the public consultation will directly influence the European Commission’s decision on whether to modify the water laws or keep them intact.

NGOs are adamant that the laws do not need to be changed and that rather governments need to use them better.

Sergiy Moroz, Senior Policy Officer for Water and Biodiversity at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said:

“Examples from across the EU show that where political will exists, the EU’s water law is effective in developing and putting in place actions to bring life back to our rivers, lakes and wetlands. Member States and the European Commission should use the opportunity presented by the current Fitness Check of the EU’s water law to strengthen the implementation of the EU legal framework for water protection in order to meet the ultimate 2027 deadline.”

A major European water conference organised by the European Commission is taking place today in Vienna. Over 500 representatives from governments across the EU, the European Commission and civil society will attend.

Martina Mlinaric, Senior Water Policy Officer at WWF’s European Policy Office, said:

“A weakening of the legislation would be a declaration of bankruptcy of European environmental policy. Having missed the original objective of bringing all European waters to good health by 2015, Member States are now feeling the pressure, but, instead of doubling their efforts, many governments are now desperately searching for an easy way out of their commitments and are using the fitness check process to achieve that.”