On EU water legislation
WWF has worked on EU water policy since the establishment of the European Policy Office in 1989, including the negotiation of the WFD.
In 2018, the European Commission launched its “fitness check” of the WFD, a process each piece of EU legislation undergoes to evaluate whether it is still relevant and “fit for purpose”. Some industry groups and Member States saw this as an opportunity to weaken the WFD’s strong elements
. Urgent action was needed. Together with other NGOs, WWF launched the #ProtectWater campaign
to defend the WFD during the ongoing fitness check, and ensure it did not result in a weakening of the law.
From 2018 to 2020, the #ProtectWater campaign inspired more than 375,000 citizens
to call on the European Commission to keep the WFD in its current form, making the public consultation on the legislation one of the largest ever in the history of the EU. This call from citizens was echoed in December 2019 in a letter from 5,500+ scientists
Just a week after this letter from the scientific community, the European Commission released its final conclusions on the WFD fitness check
, which declared the law to be “fit for purpose", acknowledging that the WFD's objectives “are as relevant now as they were at the time of the adoption”.
However, despite the clear conclusions, the Commission did not immediately discard the possibility of revising the law. This silence was creating legal uncertainty for Member States and left the door open for industry lobby groups to continue pushing for a weakening of the law ahead of a critical meeting of EU Environment Ministers
. Together with its partners in the Living Rivers Europe
coalition, WWF campaigned hard for the WFD to be given the final sign-off. Finally, on 22 June 2020, the EU’s Commissioner for Environment, Ocean and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, declared that the WFD would not be opened up for revision
, confirming the need to focus on supporting implementation and enforcement "without changing the directive".
Looking ahead, it is now important for the Commission and Member States to pull out all the stops to reach the objectives of the WFD by 2027. There is a long way to go: The European Environment Agency's State of the Environment Report 2020
showed that, out of the four freshwater indicators analysed by the EEA, only one has shown progress over the last 10-15 years.
Member States are now finalising their plans (known as River Basin Management Plans) to achieve the WFD’s objectives during the 2022-2027 cycle: This is an unparalleled opportunity for them to triple and speed-up their efforts on water protection. The European Commission needs to embark all actors together in an ambitious vision for healthy and clean waters in Europe, one which requires political will, enforcement of the legislation, and adequate financing.
For our detailed recommendations to Member States and the European Commission on improving the implementation and enforcement of the WFD, please refer to the notes to the editor of this story