By Sandrine Bélier - 25th October 2012
Water is the most precious resource on the planet and it is one of Europe's principle riches. It is a vital resource for all seven billion human beings, and the 550 million Europeans are no exception to the rule
It’s time for the commission and member states to follow parliament and rise to the challenge of ensuring that our water resources are protected, says Sandrine Bélier
Water is a common property, a resource shared by mankind and access to water is a fundamental and universal right. The European parliament has reaffirmed these principles in the introduction to its latest resolution on the implementation of European legislation in the water sector, adopted on 3 July 2012. It is still necessary to reaffirm these principles and to call for ambitious re-engagement with a view to the preservation and good management of water resources because, despite the efforts made since the adoption of the framework directive on water in 2000, we are still seeing a slow degradation in water quality and a dramatic reduction in the biological quality of water environments. Water is the most precious resource on the planet and it is one of Europe’s principal riches. It is a vital resource for all seven billion human beings, and the 550 million Europeans are no exception to the rule.
Although the assessment of European water resources is worrying, possible solutions do exist and have been proposed for the purposes of more global, cohesive policies. MEPs have pointed out that ensuring permanent access to water resources would initially require the implementation of existing pieces of legislation and it is the responsibility of the European commission and its member states to work towards ensuring their effective application. Our resolution also calls for a status audit of Europe’s waterways and measures to ensure that this resource can be used in all sectors and by all users. In line with the concerns expressed by European citizens, we have included a reminder in this resolution of the risks of water degradation and pollution posed by gas and shale oil drilling. We would also call upon the European commission to ensure that exploration and drilling activities are covered, and preceded by, an assessment of their effect on the environment.
One of my tasks as shadow rapporteur for the Greens/EFA group on this issue has been to eliminate, or, at the very least substantially reduce, any grants or subsidies which would be prejudicial to the conservation and quality of water, particularly in the energy and farming sectors. This proposal struck a particular chord during the preliminary environment committee debates with reference to the common agricultural policy reform. It intended to achieve a more ecologically-orientated approach to farming, which would specifically require a reduction in water consumption and a cap on food waste and pesticides in water, the regeneration of which is under threat.
While applauding the work done by rapporteur Richard Seeber and my fellow MEPs, it is a matter of regret for me that the text in question did not go further on the healthcare, social, economic and ecological issues at stake. In this way, the need to build up water stocks to ensure sufficient water resources for the farming sector leaves the door open for the development of substitute reserves. The mention of recourse to water shortage solutions, such as the artificial recharge of groundwater tables, is in direct contradiction to the overall message we want to put across, namely that the promotion of water consumption savings is a matter of urgency.
Lastly, while the implementation of the framework directive on water must be reinforced, the gaps and deficiencies which currently exist in European legislation likewise need highlighting. New legislative texts need to be drafted to respond to the impacts deriving from certain sectors of activity. It would seem a matter of urgency for us to work towards the preservation of fresh water biodiversity by reducing the sources of pollution at their starting point and limiting the impact of infrastructures on water environments. We must also create a raft of appropriate tools to enable us to respond to climate change, the already visible impacts of which are set to become increasingly obvious throughout Europe.
This resolution is intended to illustrate the direction which we have adopted and, as such, is now addressed to the European commission which is due to put forward the new European water protection plan next month. Whereas many member states have shown a lack of will, thus undermining the objective of achieving ‘good water status’ within the European Union by 2015, we MEPs are calling on the European commission to put forward some wide-ranging political and legislative instruments so as to respond to the urgency of the situation.
The European parliament has taken the measure of the issues at stake and has risen to the challenge. The ball is now in the court of the European commission and member state governments.
Sandrine Bélier is a member of parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee