Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Patrick Murphy, Head of Unit (Water, the Marine and Soil), DG Environment, European Commission

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author they do not necessarily represent the views of the European Commission



  The Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) is the key piece of EU policy dealing with the management of water resources. It is based on the principle of integrated management at the level of the river basin; it covers surface water, groundwater, estuarine waters and coastal waters (one nautical mile offshore). The directive brings together many issues, which were previously dealt with under separate pieces of legislation-surface waters, groundwater, freshwater fish, shellfish, discharge of dangerous substances. The directive provides for a coherent approach to the management of all river basins including international river basins. In continental Europe, this will require co-operation between EU Member States, candidate countries and third countries in the case of the Danube.


  The directive is very ambitious both in its declared objectives (achievement of good water quality everywhere by 2015) and the timetable for implementation. As from the end of 2003 the Member States will face key implementation deadlines on a regular basis. (see table 1)

Table 1


Obligation on the Member State


National Implementing Legislation Becomes Effective. Also Definition of River Basins and Identification of River Basin Districts and River Basin Authorities

Dec 2003

Analysis of Pressures and Impacts in Each River Basin

Dec 2004

Economic Analysis of Water Use in Each River Basin

Dec 2004

Monitoring Programmes to be Operational

Dec 2006

Latest Date for Starting Public Participation

Dec 2006

Finalisation of First River Basin Management Plans Including the Programme of Measures

Dec 2009


  The Water Framework Directive sets out objectives and guiding principles and provides some essential indications as to how certain tasks eg economic assessments, monitoring programmes are to be carried out. However, the directive still leaves considerable scope for the Member States to decide how, in practice, they will satisfy their legal requirements. Given the scale of the challenge, the short-time frame and the desirability of developing coherent and consistent approaches to the implementation of the directive, the Member States and the Commission, together with other stakeholders agreed to work together on a Common Implementation Strategy (CIS).

  The CIS is designed to produce technical guidance documents to be used by all Member States and candidate countries in the implementation of the directive. The technical guidance documents are agreed by consensus and they are non-binding. Member States will use them as reference documents when designing their national implementation programmes. The organisational structure of the CIS is shown in Fig 1. The different technical working groups are chaired by the Commission or the Member States: membership is open to all Member States, candidate countries and stakeholders[1]. When the technical guidance documents are finalised they will be tried and tested in pilot river basins throughout the territory of the EU and the candidate countries. The rationale for the pilot river basins is that, the guidance documents must be comprehensible to the people who will carry out the task in reality: this is not a theoretical exercise! So far progress has been good. The first guidance document on economic assessments was approved at the Water Directors meeting in Valencia in June. A further five to six will be approved in Copenhagen in November. Work on the pilot river basins will begin in 2003.

  The CIS also provides the structure within which the Commission will develop the daughter directives on groundwater and priority substances foreseen under the framework directive. In addition, a coherent approach to the reporting requirements of the different pieces of water legislation is also being developed. These actions are developed in three advisory fora each of which is chaired by the Commission.

Additional challenges for the Member States

  In addition to the technical challenges, which are presented by the WFD, Member States will need to address a number of organisational, institutional and financial issues if they are to ensure that the directive is implemented correctly. The following is a non-exhaustive list.

River basins and river basin districts

  The directive requires that Member States identify river basins and river basin districts. They must then appoint competent authorities for each river basin or river basin district. It is possible that this will require the review of existing organisational structures. Furthermore, within each Member States appropriate arrangements/agreements will need to be established between regional authorities to ensure that competent authorities are designated for each river basin/river basin district. Finally, for trans-boundary rivers/water bodies, co-ordination arrangements will need to be finalised between neighbouring states.

The inter-relationship between the river basin authorities and other bodies

  The river basin authority will have responsibility inter alia for developing the river basin management plans and the associated programme of measures for each river basin. In order to fulfil this obligation it will be necessary to define the relationship between this authority and other bodies/organisations whose competence may impact upon water quality. This would include, bodies responsible for agriculture, environment, transport, flood prevention to name but a few as well as regional and municipal authorities.

  While the responsibility for respecting the requirements of the directive falls upon the Member States but the burden for delivery will fall on the river basin authorities. For the directive to be implemented effectively Member States will need to establish appropriate co-ordination procedures.

The scope of the directive

  In contrast to previous pieces of legislation on water management, the WFD covers, surface water, groundwater, estuaries and coastal waters. For many Member States the extension into estuarine and coastal waters will require some institutional adjustments. In particular the relationship with authorities responsible for fisheries will need to be addressed.

Public participation

  The directive requires that the public are actively involved in the decision making process for each river basin. In particular, this means that the public must be involved in the elaboration of the river basin management plans. This will require the development/reinforcement of appropriate consultation procedures.

Investment cycles

  For each river basin/river basin district, the first management plan along with the associated programme of measures, shall be completed by 2009. These plans and programmes must be reviewed, and if necessary updated, every six years. In Member States where there is a regular cycle for planning and agreeing on investments, this cycle will need to be compatible with the cycle for the elaboration of plans and programmes under the WFD.

Patrick Murphy

26 September 2002


1   Stakeholder groups such as Industry and NGOs must fulfil certain criteria to work within the CIS. Essentially, these groups must have a clear interest in the subject, they must bring expertise to the process and they must have an EU wide vocation. National stakeholder groups are should channel their views through the relevant EU organisations. Back

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