The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has reviewed implementation of the Water Framework Directive by the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia and delivered a critical report which finds the countries have achieved little improvement in water quality.
The 2000 Water Framework Directive required EU Member States to adopt river basin management plans by 2009 with the aim of achieving a good ecological and chemical status for basins by 2015, and with updated plans to be adopted by the end of last year. The ECA carried out an audit focused on the four countries, aiming to answer the question: did the Member States’ implementation of the Water Framework Directive lead to an improvement in water quality. ‘The Court concludes that the implementation of the measures has led to little improvement in water quality,’ the final audit report states.
The ECA points out in its report that the region receives a great deal of financial support for implementing improvements. There are nine Member States in the Danube basin: the four subject to the ECA audit, Bulgaria, Germany, Croatia, Austria, and Slovenia. The European Regional Development Fund / Cohesion Fund provided €6.35 billion during 2007-2013 to the nine countries for investment in wastewater improvements and another €6.39 billion under the European Agricultural Fund during the same period for agri-environmental improvements to address issues such as diffuse nutrient pollution.
The ECA highlighted in particular the high number of water bodies that the four countries had exempted from meeting the 2015 deadline for achieving a good status and a subsequent 2021 deadline. The Czech Republic, for example, exempted 90% of its surface water bodies from achieving good ecological status in its 2009 river basin management plans. It has subsequently also exempted 63% of its surface water bodies in the 2015 draft plans. Hungary, meanwhile, has exempted 84% of its surface water bodies from achieving good ecological status in its 2015 draft plans, and 75% from achieving good chemical status in these plans.
Member States are required to implement the basic requirements of various water-related European directives, and additional measures where necessary in order to achieve the overall water quality objectives of the Water Framework Directive. The ECA found that deficiencies in the monitoring systems of the countries meant there was a lack of data on the type and sources of pollution causing water bodies to fail. The report states that the 2009 plans of the countries ‘lacked ambition’ in identifying measures to combat pollution. Countries focused on implementing the basic requirements, but there were either delays, in the case of the requirements of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, or the full range of options available were not pursued, in the case of the Nitrates Directive.
The ECA raised concerns around the potential additional measures that could have been pursued, noting: ‘There is a lack of targeted measures for water bodies with unsatisfactory quality status.’ For example, the countries have not adequately identified urban wastewater plants and industrial installations in need of specific emission limits, or considered agricultural measures such as limiting land application of phosphorus, the report states.
The ECA set out a number of recommendations in its report covering the overall implementation of the Water Framework Directive and specific actions on urban wastewater and agriculture. The European Commission responded by accepting most of the recommendations directed at its activities.
‘Water quality in the Danube river basin: progress in implementing the water framework directive but still some way to go’, European Court of Auditors, Special Report, 2016
- Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, water quality