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Lobbyists’ language pollutes government positions on EU water law

Voters must turn out next week to elect a European Parliament fit to stand up to industry lobbyists’ nature vendetta – that’s the rallying cry from campaigners who have uncovered an attack on the EU’s vital water law.

Lobby groups representing agriculture, hydropower and coal mining have made startlingly similar suggestions for changes to the EU’s water protection law as some governments – changes which would allow these industries to undertake more activities that destroy rivers and lakes.

© Seppo Leinonen / WWF

The European elections take place between 23 and 26 May.

A paper published today by environmental groups sheds lights on the undue influence vested interests have on governments’ positions on changing the EU law which was designed to protect rivers, lakes, and wetlands across Europe.

Alongside lobbyists representing agriculture, hydropower and extractive industries, other groups with similar positions to governments include German industry associations comprised of representatives of the construction, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals industries.

The ‘Water Framework Directive’ was opened up for public consultation by the European Commission last year, with many EU governments signaling that they are keen to weaken the law.

Now, the damning paper – published today by WWF, the European Environmental Bureau, Wetlands International, the European Anglers Alliance and European Rivers Network – shows that it could be the very sectors that pollute and destroy freshwater ecosystems that are effectively drafting governments’ positions.

The changes sought by both industry and some EU governments include scrapping the ‘one-out, all-out principle’ – the idea that a water body is only considered healthy if all factors that determine whether it is healthy are in good status (for example the flow, whether it is biodiversity-rich, and whether chemical substances are present). The overall ‘health’ status is defined by the quality element in the lowest class.

While industry groups admit they are asking for changes because they feel the current rules are too ambitious, EU governments’ reasoning for the same changes is that they are needed to maintain ambition in EU water management.

Sergiy Moroz, Water and Biodiversity Policy Officer at the EEB, described this as “bizarre”.

Moroz said:

“While some governments say they are trying to be more ambitious to protect water, the industry groups say they want these changes because the current rules are too stringent. The current law must be kept and the focus needs to be on properly implementing it to protect the environment and human health.”

Just last week, scientists issued a stark warning to politicians about the world’s environmental emergency.

Nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to agriculture alone, and freshwater ecosystems are showing the highest rate of decline.

Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office, added:

“Rivers, lakes and wetlands are our life-support systems, but they are being annihilated under our very eyes. We have the legal tool to stop this – the EU water law – but Member States must actively stand up to the sectors that pollute and destroy the most.

Earlier this year 375,000 people from across Europe took part in a consultation to defend the EU’s water law from being watered down.

EU Environment ministers are set to meet in Bucharest, Romania on 20 and 21 May where they are set to discuss issues related to water management across the EU. These arguments and questions have also been reflected in a letter sent by Living Rivers Europe to the Environment Ministers of EU Member States ahead of next week’s meeting in Bucharest.