When I was appointed European Commissioner for the environment, I designated 2012 as the European Year of Water to give EU water policy new political impetus. No one can doubt that the environmental quality of Europe’s waters has improved in recent decades, but some regions still face serious problems when it comes to pollution and water supplies. Collectively, we also face the challenges of water scarcity, droughts, floods, climate change, demographic developments and rising demand for food and energy. To meet these challenges, Europe needs new tools to increase water efficiency as well as effective legislation to protect water-based ecosystems and the environmental services they provide.
Fortunately we don't have to start from scratch. The EU already has robust legislation in place thanks to the Water Framework Directive and its underlying principle of integrated river basin management. These regulations cover all sources of pollution, every type of water user and other stakeholders in the sector. But words on paper aren’t enough; to be fully effective, legislation must be properly implemented and translated into tangible results. To fulfil its core policy objective of achieving a good environmental standard for all EU waters by 2015, the EU must now do three things:
First, all EU countries must fully implement EU water legislation. Second, water policy objectives must be integrated into every other policy area and funding tool that impacts on water, including agriculture, fisheries, transport, energy and structural and cohesion funds. Third, we need to promote greater water efficiency, tightening the existing policy framework where necessary.
With this in mind, the Commission will issue a blueprint to safeguard Europe's water resources in November. This document will allow us to identify and close gaps in the current policy framework, and also to define future priorities to ensure more efficient and sustainable use of water throughout the EU. It is time for Europe to move beyond words; it is time to achieve concrete results.
Janez Potočnik is European Commissioner for the Environment.