Environment Committee gives a needed push to EU water law

EU’s flagship water law got the vote of confidence from the European Parliament, confirming that it is up for the job of making our rivers, lakes and groundwater ecologically healthy by 2027. However, compromises between the political groups weakened some recommendations, writes Asger Mindegaard. 

The EU is not on track to meet its water-related objectives, with aquatic ecosystems under overwhelming pressure and freshwater availability increasingly compromised by pollution, over-abstraction, impacts of hydropower dams, disconnection of floodplains and alterations of the natural path of rivers. EU governments must step up implementation and enforcement of the water law and key EU policies governing sectors with large impacts on water, such as agriculture or energy, must be aligned to its objectives. 

Tuesday 1 December, members of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee passed a  resolution to improve the implementation of the EU water legislation, in particular the Water Framework Directive. They highlighted EU governments’ failure to properly implement the ‘precautionary’ and ‘polluter pays’ principles and the European Commission’s  inadequate enforcement of EU rules.

The Committee members called on the European Commission to guarantee that it will not open up the EU Water Framework Directive to revision. This is something the Commission had already confirmed in June, after a thorough analysis found the directive to be fit for purpose and after hundreds of European scientists and hundreds of thousands of citizens declared their support to this crucial Directive. 

As part of the political compromise, Committee members weakened a statement on the destructive role the expansion of hydropower plays for Europe’s freshwater ecosystems. A few weeks after a call by 150 organisations to end EU financing for future hydropower projects in Europe, they called “on the Member States to refrain from building hydropower stations, and from building other projects which lead to significant hydromorphological pressures on water in protected areas“. However, they missed a crucial opportunity to signal the need to phase out subsidies and public finance to new hydropower projects in Europe. Something that would have positive effects on biodiversity too, as hydropower is the number one energy-related pressure on habitats and species. 

The resolution still needs to pass a plenary vote in the Parliament on 15 December and Members of the European Parliament still have an opportunity to call for the phase out of subsidies to damaging hydropower projects at the plenary vote.

“It is crucial that European Parliament calls  to end subsidies for new hydropower in the plenary vote,” says Sergiy Moroz, Policy Manager for Biodiversity and Water at the EEB. “We should not spend EU money on subsidising infrastructure working against EU objectives and jeopardising our freshwater and ecosystems.”

Photo credit: Jessica Furtney