Category: Other
European Commission proposes stricter approach to protection of water bodies

Justice & Environment (J&E), a European network of environmental law organisations, welcomes the results of a study and the Commission’s position that urge EU Member States to be stricter in authorising projects that may threaten the aquatic environment.


The European Commission last week released a study and its internal position (staff working document) on the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), which provides the main legal rules for the protection of surface and groundwater bodies in the EU. 


“This is a huge success for 375.000 European citizens who called for defending the current strong rules and their better implementation during last year’s public consultation”, said Siim Vahtrus, Chairman and lead expert on the WFD of J&E.


The study is a key part of the European Commission’s evaluation of the Directive. It found that the existing obligations related to achieving good environmental status of water bodies are relevant, however, the Member States need to provide for less derogations, including authorising of projects that may harm the achievement of good status.


“The Commission’s position offers a stark warning that unless Member States start properly implementing their obligations under the Directive, the achievement of good status of water bodies will remain a distant dream”, explained Vahtrus and added: “This includes thorough, good quality and objective assessment of new development projects which may affect the status of water bodies”.


Among other key conclusions, the study points to wide-spread use of exemptions and derogations as part of the reason progress in improving the status of water bodies has been slow. The study as well as the staff working document especially highlight the conflict between the status of water bodies and new hydropower and inland navigation projects which are granted such derogations. The best way to avoid or mitigate these conflicts are by means good quality environmental assessments required by Art 4(7) of the framework directive and advocated, among others, by Justice&Environment.


Justice&Environment has contributed to the evaluation of the WDF actively from its beginning in October 2017. In 2018, J&E released its study on the implementation of Art 4(7) of the WFD in selected Member States, and earlier this year, an analysis on the legal requirements for assessments made under this provision. The process, which has gained a lot of public attention, will now continue with the European Commission drafting its conclusions and next steps. Although initially the evaluation was supposed to be completed by autumn 2019, this deadline will likely be passed.


Contact: Siim Vahtrus, Chairman of Justice & Environment, chairman(at) , + 372 55 683 880