European Commission concludes EU water law is “fit for purpose”

On 12 December 2019, the European Commission published its final evaluation of the EU's water legislation, concluding the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) to be “fit for purpose”. The Commission acknowledged that the objectives of the law “are as relevant now as they were at the time of the adoption” and that it has led to “a higher level of protection for water bodies and flood risk management”.


The news concludes the two-year evaluation of the WFD, setting the EU back on course to bring life back to its rivers through full implementation and enforcement of the law.


The message from the European Commission is clear: the WFD is a critical pillar of the EU’s environmental legislation and is here to stay in its current form. The fitness-check results highlight that the delay in reaching the WFD’s objectives is “largely due to insufficient funding, slow implementation and insufficient integration of environmental objectives in sectoral policies, and not due to a deficiency in the legislation.” 


What Living Rivers Europe has to say:


The European Commission's conclusions are strongly supported by Living Rivers Europe. Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at  WWF’s European Policy Office and Chair of the Living Rivers Europe coalition, said


“By signing off the Water Framework Directive as fit for purpose, the European Commission is standing shoulder to shoulder with the hundreds of thousands of European citizens, scientists and civil society groups who have all championed the WFD over the past two years. 


We congratulate President Von der Leyen on sealing the deal before the end of the year. As the results point out, slow implementation is to blame for not having yet reached the WFD’s objectives. As expressed yesterday upon the publication of the European Green Deal, the Commission now needs to put its money where its mouth is. It must ensure that Member States submit ambitious plans and concrete actions to achieve the law’s objectives by 2027, and that this is supported by dedicated funding.”


Mark Owen, Freshwater Policy Advisor to the European Anglers Alliance and Living Rivers Europe partner, said
“For 20 years we have been battling Member States to properly implement the Water Framework Directive as the most sustainable way of restoring fish stocks for the millions of anglers who take part in recreational fishing, the thousands of jobs that depend on angling together with the rural economies that directly benefit from angling tourism. Now that the fitness check has determined that the WFD is not only fit for purpose but that failure is due to lack of implementation by Member States, we would expect urgent action to conform with the present legal requirements to deliver for fish and fishing.”

Next steps:


Looking ahead, it is now important to pull out all the stops to reach the objectives of the WFD by 2027. 


There is a long way to go. 60% of EU surface waters are not healthy, failing to meet the WFD’s standards. The State of the Environment Report 2020 (published just before these fitness-check conclusions) showed that, out of the four freshwater indicators analysed by the EEA, only one has shown progress over the last 10-15 years. For all indicators, the outlook to 2030 is “a mixed picture”. 


However, Member States are now finalising their plans to achieve the WFD’s objectives during the 2022-2027 cycle (known as River Basin Management Plans). This is an unparalleled opportunity for them to triple and speed-up their efforts on water protection. The European Commission needs to embark all actors together in an ambitious vision for healthy and clean waters in Europe, one which requires political will, enforcement of the legislation, and investments.