1.2 Policy context

The key aspects and aims of the European Green Deal are shown in Figure 2. The Green Deal includes a number of key EU strategies with targets relevant to water such as the policy initiatives of the Farm to Fork Strategy (EC, 2020c), the new Biodiversity Strategy (EC, 2020b) and a Zero Pollution Action Plan. The targets of these strategies are expected to have far-reaching impacts on several European key water management challenges presented in this report. Further EU strategies with high-level targets for water are the 8th Environmental Action Program, but also the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (EC 2016) (see Table 1).

Figure 2             Key aspects and aims of the European Green Deal

Source: Communication from the European Commission on the European Green Deal (EC 2019b)

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Table 1              Overview of EU policies and strategies and key targets related to water

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The targets and actions in the above EU strategies are in general implemented via specific environmental directives and policies such as the WFD, Floods Directive, Habitats and Birds Directives, but also Directives related to specific issues, like the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD), the Nitrates Directive or the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive. The water-related contributions of these directives to the EU strategies are briefly described in the following.

The WFD (EU 2000) aims to achieve good status of all surface waters and groundwater in Europe. With its programme of measures, the WFD addresses most of the above-mentioned targets and goals and is therefore key for water management. In 2009, EU Member States published the first and, in 2015, the second river basin management plans (RBMPs) for achieving the environmental objectives of the WFD. At present, EU Member States are finalising the third RBMPs to be published in 2021 that will frame the management of water resources in the third WFD planning cycle, covering the period up to the end of 2027. More information on the implementation of WFD and assessments of the latest 2nd RBMPs are available in the European Commission’s 5th WFD implementation report published in 2019[1]. The Commission also evaluates the Programmes of Measures foreseen to be implemented during the 2nd RBMP period (2016-2021) both at European and national level. EU Member States reported in December 2018 the progress in implementing measures and the Commission evaluation of the progress will be published within 2021.

The goal of the Floods Directive (EU 2007) is sustainable management of flood risks to reduce negative consequences of flooding on human health, the environment and other issues. Member States are requested to develop a program of measures, which inter alia includes win-win measures in coordination with WFD measures implementation.

Targets for the restoration of aquatic ecosystems are also considered by the Habitats Directive (EEC 1992), aiming at the conservation of rare habitat types and threatened or endemic animal and plant species, and the Birds Directive (EEC, 1979) on the protection of 500 wild bird species including their respective habitats in form of protected areas. These areas are part of the Natura 2000 network set up in the Habitats Directive.

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD) (EU 1991a) specifically addresses the reduction of nutrient and chemical pollution to waters. Other Directives and legislations related to chemicals in waters are the REACH Regulation (EU 2006b) on registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals and the Directive on industrial emissions for integrated pollution prevention and control (IED). Furthermore, the Nitrates Directive (EU 1991b) as well as the Directive on the sustainable use of pesticides (EU 2009) aim to avoid nutrient and chemical pollution from agriculture into soil and waters and are specifically linked to the Farm to Fork Strategy. For both directives, Member States are obliged to establish National Action Plans including mitigation measures to fulfil the Directives’ requirements. 

Furthermore, the Regulation on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species (IAS) and the Eel Regulation support targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. The Bathing Water Directive (EU 2006a) and the Drinking Water Directive (EU 1998) set quality standards for waters, relevant for human health. For safe use, sources of pollution on a catchment scale need to be considered. However, a link to directives addressing chemical or nutrient pollution (see above) is crucial. 

All these policies build an elaborate set of European environmental policies and standards which provide the framework for planning and implementing measures to address the European key water management challenges presented in this report.

[1] European Commissions 5th Water Framework Directive implementation report https://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-framework/impl_reports.htm

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