Europe’s water policy has developed gradually over past decades. First EU policies aimed at improving water quality date back to 1991, with the adoption of the Urban Waste Water Treatment and Nitrates Directives (EU, 1991a, 1991b), both (among others) targeting reduction of pollution pressures to water. In 2000, with the adoption of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) (EU, 2000), an integrated ecosystem based approach to managing water was introduced. Public safety and health objectives are secured by the Drinking Water, Bathing Water and Floods Directives (EU, 1998, 2006, 2007), and presently a proposal on minimum requirements for water reuse is under negotiation. While the Directives tend to be very specific, the importance of water in relation to biodiversity and marine policies is pursued through the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030 (EC, 2020a) and the priority objectives of the 8th EAP (EU, 20xx). Water quantity remains an area of national competence, although issues linked to overall sustainable water use are of transboundary and thus European interest (EC, 2011b).
In this section
The section is presenting an overview of 1) the current environmental policies related to freshwater topics, 2) the European policy agenda for the upcoming years and 3) the EU Water policies contributing to the international context.
European policy agenda for the upcoming years
Today a broad portfolio of solutions is brought together under the European Green Deal and its farm‑to‑fork and biodiversity strategies, zero pollution ambition and European Climate Law, which have established ambitious new targets. As additional legislation is adopted, further targets and initiatives will come. Objectives that will also support the improved status of water in years to come include:
- restoring 25 000 km of rivers into free-flowing rivers by 2030, through the removal of primarily obsolete barriers and the restoration of floodplains and wetlands
- reducing fertiliser use by at least 20 % and nutrient losses by 50 % while ensuring that there is no deterioration in soil fertility, among others building on an integrated nutrient management action plan
- reducing by 50 % the over all use of and risk from chemical pesticides and the use of the more hazardous pesticides by 50 %, by 2030
- reducing by 50 % the sales of antimicrobials used in farmed animals and aquaculture
- having 25 % of agricultural land organically farmed by 2030
- achieving EU commitments on land degradation neutrality
Water policies in non-EU Countries
EEA countries that are not members of the EU also implement water policies inspired by the Water Framework and Floods Directives. Norway has adopted the Water Framework Directive although not a member of the European Union. Switzerland has set binding targets and requirements for its water policy and collaborates with its neighbours to achieve shared objectives through International Commissions for the Protection of the Rhine, Lake Constance, and Lake Geneva. Turkey developed a national river basin management strategy for 2014-2023 with the view of ensuring the sustainable management of water resources in line with EU legislation. Iceland has adopted the Water Framework Directive, and is working towards its implementation although at a different timeline from the rest of the EU and Norway.
EU Water policies contributing to the international context
Europe’s water policy also provides a contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) (UN, 2016), and to a range of other policies such as in the areas of Biodiversity and Nature, Marine environment, and Chemical Pollution. Conversely, another range of policies also influence freshwater: Sectoral policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy, Industrial Pollution policies, and Air Pollution policies . In the context of water it is important to mention that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) includes requirements that support achieving environmental objectives. Funding provided under CAP pillar II potentially supports Water Framework Directive objectives.