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The European Commission decided today to to refer Ireland, Bulgaria, Spain, Malta, Portugal and Slovakia to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failure to finalise the revision of their river basin management plans, as required under the Water Framework Directive (Directive 2000/60/EC) and/or of their flood risk management plans as required under the Floods Directive (Directive 2007/60/EC).
The Water Framework Directive focuses on ensuring good qualitative and quantitative health of European water bodies, such as rivers and lakes. It aims to reduce and remove pollution as well as ensure that there is enough water to support at the same time human needs and wildlife. It is an essential part of the European Green Deal and necessary to reach its climate, nature, and pollution reduction targets. Compliance with the Floods Directive is critical for preparedness and management of floods.
Under the Water Framework Directive, Member States must update and report their river basin management plans every six years. These plans, which include a programme of measures, are key to ensure good status or potential of all water bodies as required by the Directive. Under the Floods Directive, Member States must also update and report their flood risk management plans every six years. These plans are equally key to fulfil the objectives of the Floods Directive, that is to reduce and manage the risks that floods pose to human health, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activity.
The Commission sent letters of formal notice in February 2023, followed by reasoned opinions in September 2023 to all countries that had failed to update and review these plans.
Despite some progress, six countries still fail to comply with their obligations under either or both Directives:
• Spain, Malta and Portugal have still not fully reported their third river basin management plans and second flood risk management plans;
• Ireland and Bulgaria have still not fully reported third river basin management plans;
• Slovakia has still not fully reported the second flood risk management plans.
The Commission considers that efforts by the authorities have, to date, been insufficient and is therefore referring Ireland, Bulgaria, Spain, Malta, Portugal, and Slovakia to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Since 2000, the Water Framework Directive has been the main law for water protection in Europe. It applies to inland, transitional and coastal surface waters as well as groundwaters. It ensures an integrated approach to water management, respecting the integrity of whole ecosystems, including by regulating individual pollutants and setting corresponding regulatory standards. It is based on a river basin district approach to make sure that neighbouring countries cooperate to manage the rivers and other bodies of water they share.
The Floods Directive creates six-yearly cycles aiming to reduce the risk of flood damage in the EU. The first cycle of implementation was 2010-2015. The second cycle of implementation covered the period 2016-2021. The Commission assessed the second cycle’s Preliminary Flood Risk Assessments as prepared by the Member States. These assessments and an EU overview were published in the 6th Implementation Report in December 2021. The third cycle covers 2022-2027.
Flood risk management is an integral part of integrated river basin management. The Floods Directive is therefore closely coordinated with the Water Framework Directive especially as regards coordinating flood risk management plans, river basin management plans, and public participation procedures.
In a separate decision the European Commission decided to open an infringement procedure by sending a letter of formal notice to Ireland (INFR(2023)2178) for failing to fully comply with the obligations set in the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (Directive 91/271/EEC). The Directive aims to protect health and the environment by requiring that urban wastewater is collected and treated before discharge. Untreated wastewater can put human health at risk and pollute lakes, rivers, soil, coastal, and groundwater. In Ireland, in eight agglomerations with a population of more than 2,000 people, urban waste waters are not properly treated before being discharged. A further three agglomerations with a population of more than 10,000 are discharging wastewater in sensitive areas without the more stringent treatment as required by the Directive. The Commission is therefore sending a letter of formal notice to Ireland, which now has two months to respond and address the shortcomings raised by the Commission. In the absence of a satisfactory response, the Commission may decide to issue a reasoned opinion.