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In this second interview about water in the European Union, I talk to Frederic de Hemptinne from the Brussels policy office of the European Water Association. He explains where he and EWA sees water policy now and in the coming years.

It seems as though water has become a much more important policy area in EU affairs in recent years?

Water is definitely receiving renewed attention from the EU authorities. Early in 2010, the European Commission has launched the preparation for an EU Blueprint to Safeguard the EU Waters which will be finalized in 2012, the year that DG Environment has chosen for putting an emphasis on water.

It is striking that all these discussions are taking place now while there isn’t any proposal for new legislation on the table. Since the daughter directives, Floods Directive and Marine Strategy were adopted, the EU legal framework is now complete. It is much too early for any revision of the EU legal framework since the first planning cycle set the Water Framework Directive (WFD) will end in 2015. So it is all about implementation and enactment. This is what has triggered the attention of the EU. It is rare that implementation matters get so high on the agenda.

Why do think this is, and what direction do you see it developing in?

First, after almost 9 year of preparation, the river basin management plans were due to be adopted in 2009 and reported to the Commission by March 2010. They are now being implemented in a majority of Member States while the Commission has started scrutinizing the content. This is the first “reality check” and we will see how much the Water Framework Directive can help in reducing water stress.

Second, renewed attention to the water sector is also the result of an increased perception of climate change impacts. Water is the main medium through which people will see climate change. The water and agriculture nexus is a good example

In the background, there is a big issue about infrastructure investment: how much money is going to be invested in water infrastructure? How to plan these investments in such an uncertain financial climate? How to share the costs and benefits?

Are EU governments taking water policy seriously enough at the moment? What more could they do?

I am of opinion that the importance of the WFD implementation efforts were much underestimated at the time the WFD was adopted. Coordination in itself is a demanding task and requests support tools to be developed. In addition new threads have emerged since then. I do not speak only about climate change but also river morphology or diffuse pollution.

Therefore, it is not a surprise that proper implementation will remain a top priority for the coming years. The work does not stop with the adoption of the plans. They have to be translated into operational measures. The WFD sets the deadline for that on 2012. Then we will ignite the preparation of the 2nd planning cycle to be started in 2015.

What is the role of you and your organization in making this real?

The European Water Association is a professional association that brings together the whole community of actors involved in river basin management (utilities, authorities, regulators, engineering companies, suppliers, academics, etc. ). My role is to make sure that the liaison between the associations, European Commission and water stakeholders works well.

Our goals are twofold:
On the one hand, EWA wants to strengthen its members’ capacity to get involved in river basin management plans and to interact successfully with basin authorities and other water actors about the implementation of the WFD and related Directives.

And on the other hand, it wants to contribute to working groups that shape the Common Implementation Strategy (Guidance, reporting templates, networks, etc) under the aegis of DG Environment.

Accordingly, EWA organizes a lot of activities aimed at sharing and disseminating knowledge across the EU in order to strengthen the capacity of water professionals. We really work as a network of national and European experts and partners.

Thank you for your time, answers and insights.

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