The Commissioner-designate for Environment and Oceans, Virginijus Sinkevičius from Lithuania was given the task by future Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to - among other - ensure improved air and water quality. From the Chamber of Labour’s point of view, this target is to be welcomed; after all, currently changes to Europe’s water policy are being discussed on EU level.
The key legal text for water policy, which is currently scrutinised by the Commission, is the Water Framework Directive (WFD). The objective of the WFD is to secure the water resources in Europe on a long-term and to achieve an improvement of the condition of Europe’s waters.
No amendment of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) necessary
In AK’s opinion, the WFD and the derived legal acts (e.g. the Directive on the protection of groundwater or the Floods Directive) provide a good and effective base for a sustainable protection of the waters. Based on these, it is possible to retain the public good ‘water’ for future generations and to protect it against pollution. So far, the Directives have shown to be effective, flexible and modern legislation. Where they were professionally implemented, it has been possible to achieve significant improvements in the water quality. Hence, according to the AK, the targets specified by the WFD and individual measures do not require further discussions.
On the contrary, there are concerns that a revision of the WFD might entail an attempt to lower the current high standards. As a Report by the European Environment Agency shows, there are Member States in the European Union that have just started to implement the WFD, a reason why success or failure of the WFD as a whole cannot be derived from it. However, experiences in Austria show that the WFD is actually a good instrument to protect the resource water. In particular, it leaves sufficient national scope for its implementation. However, from the AK’s point of view the following sectors are in need of amending:
Polluter Pays Principle should comprehensively be applied
To protect the water resources against any kind of pollution (agriculture, industry, transport, energy), the general EU legislation should make greater use of applying the Polluter Pays Principle. The costs for protecting drinking water resources and processing should not be borne by water suppliers or consumers. It would be better – pursuant to the Polluter Pays Principle – to prevent pollution where it is caused.
Publicly owned water
The water supply in Austria has always been publicly owned. Consumers are very satisfied with the high quality of the drinking water and their water supply. Looking at supply reliability and climate change, it is necessary for water agencies to remain in public hand. In case of conflicts regarding the use of water resources, drinking water supply must always take priority. Any liberalisation and privatisation tendencies must be thwarted, as not least in Austria, the water supply works extremely well. A Study by AK Vienna, younion and the Austrian Association of Towns and Cities has found that in some Member States the privatisation of water supply and sanitation has not generated any added value with regard to quality, tariffs for consumers as well as investments in the infrastructure.
European Citizens’ Initiative „Right2Water“
The first successful European Citizens’ Initiative “Right2Water” was signed by 1.8 million people across the EU. It demanded among other access to water as a human right. Currently EU Drinking Water Directive is being renegotiated at European level. Even if the human right to water has not been as strongly enshrined as the AK had hoped, the amendment nevertheless makes a contribution to the implementation to part of the concern of “Right2Water” and to improve access to drinking water for people. However, in this connection and to have a better database regarding measures to be taken in future, it would be important that in the WFD reporting duties of the Member States people would be recorded who currently have no access to water.