We were pleased to welcome Alfonso Alcolea Policy Officer at the Clean Water Unit at DG ENV. This discussion covered a wide range of topics on the evolution of EU Water Policy. Particularly focusing on the water framework currently in place along with the implementation of the Water Framework Directive. Water is a cross-cutting issue which deals with a variety of policy areas such as nature protection, tourism,agriculture, and industry. The Clean Water Unit deals with water outside the pipes, the water framework as well as pharmaceuticals.
In terms of the evolution of Water Policy, the early directives in the 70’s focused on bathing water and priority substances in the aquatic environment. The directives implemented in the 80’s and 90’s were primarily concerned with the quality of water for human consumption and wastewater. It wasn’t until 1996 that the EU established a Communication on Water Policy, which was followed by the implementation of the Water Framework Directive in 2000.All of these policy frameworks recognise that water is crucial for human beings, society and the environment. Since the 70’s there has always been a political push to have a joint policy as it is important for water policy to have a centralised policy process to ensure coordination among the units.
The Water Framework Directive(WFD) is the primary EU freshwater policy instrument, it is based on the principle that water is not a commercial product, but, rather a heritage which must be defended, protected and treated as such. The WFD can be regarded as the cornerstone of the EU water policy. It aims to ensure that water bodies reach a good ecological status by 2027, doing so through a progressive implementation calendar. The River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) is part of the WFD, it is a management unit under an integrated approach. The RBMP deals with cross border rivers which constitute 60% of EU rivers, it covers all pressures in the concerned areas. This directive also deals with pricing water through the cost recovery principle.However, this can prove to be rather challenging, as water is essential for living it is difficult to effectively price water.
The implementation of the WFD is done through the Common Implementation Strategy (CIS). The organisation of the CIS is composed of a variety of working groups such as ecological status, floods and chemicals, a working group of economics is soon set to be launched. The effectiveness of the WFD was most recently assessed with the 5thImplementation Report published in February 2019. Whereby each member state provided an evaluation which was then used to compile international cooperation reports. This revealed that member states such as the UK often faced challenges when it came to developing measurable objectives of the FRMPs to the extent possible and ensuring systematic coordination with the National Climate Change Adaption Strategy. Despite, these issues it is clear that in the last few years’ progress has been made as water quality deterioration has halted and is slowly improving. This is due to the significant reduction of pressures,better monitoring networks and more transparency.
To conclude it is apparent that progress still has to be made to ensure that the objective of the WFD is reached by 2027. Particularly with the emerging problems that still persist such as climate change in the form of droughts and floods, over exploitation,emerging pollutants plastics and micro-plastics.Furthermore, with the Green Deal at the heart of the new Commission, it is imperative for the WFD to be successfully implemented. Water Policy will be a key component of the Zero Pollution Ambition Strategy along with the Sustainable Investment Plan. This, therefore,highlights that business as usual is not an option as the economy along with industries will have to drastically change to ensure the successful implementation of these policies.
Policy Officer in the Unit Clean Water, DG ENV | European Commission
Alfonso Alcolea joined recently the European Commission as policy officer in the Unit “Clean Water” of the Directorate-General for the Environment. This team is in charge of the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive, among other pieces of legislation. Between 2009 and 2019, Mr Alcolea served as EU official in the Secretariat of the European Committee of the Regions, holding several responsibilities in close contact with Local and Regional Authorities of the EU and of third countries: The promotion and support to cross-border cooperation and the EGTCs (European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation), the decentralized cooperation to development, and the Secretariat of the Commission for Environment, Climate Change and Energy. Previously, from 2005 to 2009 he had been policy officer in charge of water and agriculture at the Regional Office of Valencia in Brussels, and in 2003-2004 he was parliamentary assistant at the EP. In 2002 he was policy officer of the Association of Environmental Companies of the Region of Murcia, AEMA-RM. Mr Alcolea is a Spanish Lawyer and political scientist with specializations in diplomacy, IR and environment. He studied in the University of Murcia, the University of Barcelona and the College of Europe in Bruges.