Unambitious and ineffective: Member States’ water report cards are in. | WWF

Unambitious and ineffective: Member States’ water report cards are in.

Posted on 26 February 2019
Infographic: All Member States are using exemptions to delay bringing their freshwater bodies to good health
All Member States are using exemptions to delay bringing their freshwater bodies to good health
© WWF European Policy Office
Europe’s rivers are suffering. Despite the EU’s strong water legislation, the European Commission’s latest report on its implementation, published today, paints a bleak picture. Although some progress has been made, Member States are not on track to bring Europe’s rivers, lakes, wetlands, streams, groundwater, transitional and coastal waters to good health by 2027. For WWF, the report provides yet more evidence that Member States are seriously undermining their legal commitments and, in doing so, threatening the availability of water for nature and for people. 

The European Commission’s fifth report on the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) is based on Member States’ River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) for the period 2015-2021 [1]. These plans are a requirement of the legislation, outlining governments’ plans to achieve its objectives, and are an effective tool for achieving the protection, improvement and sustainable use of freshwater across the EU. Based on the assessment of the RBMPs, the European Commission has issued recommendations for Member States to improve water management, the report shows that that a significant shift in the way they address the main pressures on their waters (such as agricultural pollution or excessive use of water) is urgently needed. 

“With only 40% of EU rivers, lakes and wetlands currently healthy [2], it is hugely disappointing, not to mention irresponsible, to see that the most effective tool for protecting and restoring Europe’s waters is still not being used to its full potential”, said Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office. “To add insult to injury, Member States are now opting for the easy way out and pushing for the Water Framework Directive to be significantly weakened during the European Commission’s ongoing fitness-check. The European Commission is also continuing to fail to properly enforce the law. But EU citizens are watching them. More than 300,000 people have already vouched for the Directive through the #ProtectWater campaign. Will they listen up or continue to look the other way?”

Full implementation of the WFD requires commitment and appropriate funding, but the vast majority of Member States are continuing to use (and misuse) the various types of exemptions provided under the WFD. Around half of Europe’s water bodies (surface and groundwater) are currently under exemption. Moreover, the Commission’s report points to the lack of adequate funding to implement the legislation’s control measures. 

“Our rivers and wetlands are dying under our very eyes as a result of pollution and destructive infrastructure - and EU governments are not batting an eyelid. This is unacceptable and completely goes against their citizens’ interests. It also violates our  strong EU water legislation, which they themselves developed and committed to.” said Martina Mlinaric, Senior Water Policy Officer at WWF’s European Policy Office. “What is also evident from the European Commission’s assessment, is that the plans they have put in place to protect and restore freshwater ecosystems are totally unambitious, demonstrating that they have zero aspirations, let alone intentions, to tackle the dire state of Europe’s waters.”

[1] All reports, including the main report, the EU overviews for River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) and Flood Risk Management Plans (FRMPs), as well as all Member States’ reports for the Water Framework Directive, Floods Directive and International River Basin Districts (iRBDs) can be accessed here

[2] State of Water report, EEA, 2018

Sophie Bauer, Communications Officer (Freshwater)
WWF European Policy Office
+32 471 05 25 1

Notes to the editor: 
About River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) and the EU’s assessment
  • River basin management plans (RBMPs) are a requirement of the EU water law - the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD)
  • The European Commission’s assessment, released today, is based on Member States’ 2nd RBMPs, and cover the period 2015-2021
  • Whilst there have been some improvements in implementation - particularly in terms of monitoring, knowledge around the state of freshwater ecosystems in Europe, and understanding of the significant pressures which may put them at risk of failing the objectives of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) - there is a palpable lack of ambition from Member States to make this law work. 
About the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD)
  • The WFD is one of the EU’s most progressive pieces of environmental legislation. It requires the protection, enhancement and restoration of our rivers, wetlands, lakes and coastal waters. 
  • Under the WFD, EU governments have committed to ensure no deterioration and achieve good status for the vast majority of all water bodies by 2015, and at the very latest by 2027.
  • The WFD requires Member States to aim to achieve at least good status in each water body within their river basin districts. Each Member State must produce a plan for each of the river basin districts within its territory. Member States should also coordinate the preparation of RBMPs for international river basin districts (iRBDs). 
  • Plans must include objectives for each water body, reasons for not achieving objectives where relevant, and the programme of measures required to meet the objectives.
  • In line with the WFD the European Commission is required to publish a report on the implementation of the Directive every six year. The report has to include among other things a review of progress in the implementation of the Directive and a survey of the RBMPs submitted in accordance with Article 15, including suggestions for the improvement of future plans. First report assessing RBMPs was published by the Commission in 2012; this report looks at 2nd cycle of River Basin Management Plans (2015-2021).
  • The Commission at the same time also published a report on the implementation of Floods Directive (FD), assessing flood risk management plans (FRMPs), member states were required to submit in 2015.
  • Where implemented, the WFD has proved to be effective in achieving its goals of good water status and non-deterioration, successfully balancing environmental, social and economic requirements.
  • The WFD is currently undergoing its standard review in the form of a ‘fitness check’. Every piece of EU legislation goes through this process. The fitness check will look at the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and EU added value of the WFD (and its 'daughter’ directives) and the Floods Directive. It includes the ongoing stakeholder consultation and public consultation.
  • The goal of #ProtectWater simple: to defend the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) and in doing so, protect Europe’s rivers, lakes, groundwater and wetlands, and the wildlife they house, for generations to come.
  • The campaign is led by Living Rivers Europe (WWF’s European network, the European Anglers Alliance, European Environmental Bureau, European Rivers Network, and Wetlands International), who together represent a movement of over 40 million people across Europe.
  • 130+ NGOs are currently supporting the campaign, including BirdLife and Friends of the Earth.
  • The campaign allows anyone to easily take part in the European Commission’s public consultation on the evaluation of EU water policy, which includes the WFD. Living Rivers Europe believes that only a loud call from citizens to keep the WFD strong will ensure that this law, and the rivers, lakes and wetlands that depend on it, are protected. By filling in the e-action’s form (available on www.livingrivers.eu as well as individual organisations’ websites), individuals can quickly and easily send the suggested response to the public consultation to the European Commission on their behalf.
  • For more information, please visit www.livingrivers.eu

Infographic: All Member States are using exemptions to delay bringing their freshwater bodies to good health
All Member States are using exemptions to delay bringing their freshwater bodies to good health
© WWF European Policy Office Enlarge