European Recovery under the Green Deal: All hands on deck!


Florika Fink-Hooijer
European Commission, Director General for the Environment

Addressing the Water Europe community cannot be more timely. While Europe grapples with the COVID-crisis, the response to the impact of the pandemics is an opportunity to address the interrelated crisis that affect the state of our waters: climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and depletion of resources. That is why we have to seize the opportunity to deliver the green transition on the ground. For this, we need invest in “green” – and in “blue”. Investments in water sector will also help us to face the pandemics. The Commission will work closely with Member States to put in place a system for wastewater surveillance to track the COVID virus and its variants[1].

Crisis entails change. Existing order is challenged and solutions need to be found to address the challenges at stake.  Water cannot be taken for granted any longer. The European Green Deal[2]put emphasis on the value of fresh water for healthy ecosystems, the risks linked to water pollution for the human being, the need to ensure sustainable water management for the real economy, and also its value for mobility.

The European Green Deal puts the Planet first: through a number of landmark, truly cross-cutting initiatives, engaging national authorities, economic operators, society as a whole, it brings the tools we need to improve the way we build, produce, eat, move and consume. In parallel, the Next Generation EU, with the Recovery and Resilience Facility, provides a one in a generation opportunity to bring in the needed societal changes.

These factors create the momentum to step up the ambition of bringing health back to EU waters.

The water related actions included in the Circular Economy Action Plan[3], 2030 Biodiversity Strategy[4], Farm to Fork Strategy[5] and EU Climate Adaptation Strategy[6] provide the necessary contextual framework to move forward. Precisely now the national authorities are planning their measures and investments to achieve good status of our surface and ground waters by 2027 at the latest. These measures need participation, partnership and innovation.

In addition, the Commission will soon adopt the Zero Pollution Action Plan[7] in which it develops a holistic approach to dealing with existing and future pollution, not only for the water sector (meaning for both freshwaters and seas), but also across air and soils, to prevent harm to both health and natural ecosystems.

The Commission services are working on the update of the lists of priority substances and groundwater pollutants[8]. The ongoing reviews of the Bathing Water Directive[9] and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive[10] will help us assess whether new parameters should be monitored. This stepped up vigilance on a larger number of substances is important also in preventing new pandemics, as we have witnessed how much the increased surveillance of, notably, waste-water is key to enhance our collective resilience against viruses and pathogens. Strengthened water quality standards in the new Drinking Water Directive[11] will improve the protection of human health by addressing pollutants of emerging concern, including endocrine disruptors and micro-plastics. Finally, for marine waters, the Commission services started the review the Marine Strategy Framework Directive[12] , and will explore options for improving its implementation and possible amendment, to ensure our seas and oceans are clean, healthy and productive. I take this opportunity to invite you to participate in the consultation activities planned for all these reviews as we value your opinion.

A robust legislation has created the framework for the EU to lead industry, technology, governance and knowledge of water globally. Now it is time to roll up our sleeves and transform, together, Europe into a water-smart society, delivering the solutions the European Green Deal calls for.

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