18.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 195/37


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the assessment and management of floods

(COM(2006) 15 final — 2006/0005 (COD))

(2006/C 195/09)

On 13 February 2006, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 175(1) of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 26 April 2006. The rapporteur was Ms Sánchez Miguel.

At its 427th plenary session, held on 17 and 18 May 2006 (meeting of 17 May), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 141 votes to none, with three abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC welcomes the Commission's Proposal for a Directive on floods, as called for in the Committee opinion (1) on the earlier Communication, especially since this proposal incorporates the methodology and instruments created by the Water Framework Directive (WFD). With the inclusion in the river basin plan of flood risk maps and plans, all activities relating to the management of inland waterways and the connected coastal areas are regulated.

1.2

The effectiveness of these arrangements depends heavily on the preliminary assessment of the situation in the river basins and associated coastal zones, based on a thorough analysis of the current situation, especially in those areas at high risk due to human activity and climate change.

1.3

It is also important to place emphasis on actions to prevent the harmful effects of flooding, including all public information and participation measures. To this end, we call upon the Commission to make particularly sure that these arrangements as provided for in Article 14 of the WFD and the Proposal for a Directive, are included in river basin plans.

1.4

The risk management plans and risk mapping, as set out in the proposal, must be extended. The classification of river basins at high risk of flooding should incorporate both priority measures (with adequate funding) and criteria to be met in order to reduce costs and increase the benefits to people. This should result in integrated and sustainable activity in flood areas.

1.5

Lastly, it should be added that, in the context of Community measures for multidisciplinary research and coordination, all policies that affect European waters should be strengthened.

2.   Introduction

2.1

There has always been something missing from Directive 2000/60/EC and the Water Framework Directive (WFD): the fixing of an objective to prevent, protect against and mitigate the effects of flooding. In fact, in the last decade, the EU has suffered more than 100 floods, causing great loss of life and significant economic losses. The Commission previously presented a Communication (2) which analysed the situation and proposed concerted action in the European Union. This proposal forms part of that action.

2.2

Both the Communication and the proposed Directive emphasise the need for all actions undertaken in the context of water policy to be coordinated with other Community policies for preventing and minimising the effects of flooding. Research policy, using research projects such as FLOODsite to help improve integrated flood risk analysis and management methodologies, and regional policy, through the use of the Structural Funds, in particular the European Regional Development Fund and the CAP, together with decoupling and cross-compliance (3), form an overall package that can deliver better results than action on water alone.

2.3

The aim of the proposal is to reduce and manage the risks of flooding, which affects people's lives and health, their property, as well as nature and the environment. The incorporation of this proposal into the WFD will make it possible to simplify organisational and administrative procedures, since it fits in with existing river basin districts, in line with the WFD. This means that all actions undertaken to prevent and minimise the risks of flooding should be carried out as part of the river basin plans for each river and that the responsible authorities are the same in both cases and take on this new competence. Furthermore, it is important to note that aligning the timetables of the new proposal with those previously set out in the WFD will increase effectiveness.

2.4

The EESC agrees with the proposed Directive, which it has examined carefully, and notes that it features many of the suggestions made in the Committee opinion on the 2004 Communication (4). Therefore all that remains is for us to emphasise the task that must be carried out by the Commission; its role in ensuring that the requirements of the WFD are met is the guarantee that they will be properly implemented by the authorities in the Member States, without losing sight of the potentially benefits for third countries that share river basins with the European Union.

3.   Summary of the proposal

3.1

The proposal is divided into seven chapters:

The first sets out general provisions, identifying the proposal's objective and defining floods and flood risk to supplement the definitions found in Article 2 of the WFD.

The second chapter describes preliminary flood risk assessment for each river basin and sets out some minimum requirements in Article 4(2). On the basis of this assessment, the river basins are to be assigned to one of two categories: those with no potential flood risks and those that have significant potential flood risks. This assessment is to be completed at the latest three years after the date of entry into force of this Directive.

The preparation of flood risk maps is provided for in chapter three. These cover not only river basins but also coastal areas that fall within river basin districts. These maps are to take into account the probability of flooding for each geographical area and estimate potential effects on the population, local economy and environment.

Flood risk management plans are covered in chapter four, under Article 9 et seq. Member States are to prepare and implement flood risk management plans for each river basin district, on the basis of the preliminary assessment, in order to reduce the probability of flooding and lessen its effects. To this end, the plans must address water management, soil management, spatial planning, land use. In no case may the measures have a negative impact on neighbouring countries.

Public information and participation, covered in chapter five, incorporates the provisions of Article 14 of the WFD and should be part of the preparation of both the preliminary assessment and the management plans.

Chapter six covers the committee established under Article 21 of the WFD to assist the Commission.

Lastly, chapter seven sets a deadline of 2018 for completion of the Commission reports to the Parliament and the Council, and stipulates that Member States must communicate to the Commission the provisions they have adopted to transpose the Directive no later than two years from the date of its entry into force.

4.   Comments on the proposal

4.1

The EESC notes that the inclusion of this proposal in the methodology of the WFD encourages the incorporation of flood management plans into the river basin plans; this ensures that the necessary planning is undertaken for action over the entire length of the river basin and that the measures and actions undertaken by the competent authorities at the various levels (local, State, cross-border, etc.) are compatible and properly coordinated.

4.2

Furthermore, the integration of flood management in the WFD conceptually supports the definition of flooding as a natural and normal phenomena in river and coastal systems. Flood risk is defined in terms of the negative impact on human health, the environment, economic activity and consequently to damage to the bodies of water covered by the WFD.

4.3

The need for an initial flood risk assessment was one of our main conclusions (5); therefore, we believe that the provisions set out in both Articles 4 and 5 of the proposed Directive will aid the scientific preparation of flood management plans. It is important to mention some of the requirements, such as:

a description of the floods which have occurred in the past;

a description of flooding processes and their sensitivity to change;

a description of development plans that would entail a change of land use or of allocation of the population and distribution of economic activities resulting in an increase of flood risks.

4.4

In addition, the classification of river basins and coastlines according to whether they are at risk of flooding or not seems very significant. The EESC agrees that the objective of this risk management is to reduce the probability and impact of floods, and to that end it is necessary to classify the actions and measures that can be adopted and the criteria for making the right choice in each case.

4.5

The EESC suggests to the Commission that the river basin plans provided for in Article 9 and in Annex A be specifically based on the following principles and measures:

Returning river and coastal water systems to their natural state, promoting the recovery of natural spaces and the natural self-regulating functions of basins (reforestation in mountainous areas, the protection of wetlands and associated ecosystems, monitoring erosion and sedimentation in water courses, programmes for finding alternative uses … etc.).

The principle of achieving sustainable development in flood areas, by:

estimating the exploitable economic potential of land use in these areas which is compatible with natural flood activity;

planning the transition to these models in the various areas of planning, in particular land-use planning.

4.6

In order to increase civil society's involvement in preventing the risks and effects of flooding, it is important that a system of information and participation is developed in all Member States, as provided for in Article 14 of the WFD. To this end, the arrangements for participation should cover both the risk management plans and the preliminary assessments.

Brussels, 17 May 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  Opinion CESE 125/2005, OJ C221 of 8 September 2005.

(2)  Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Flood risk management - Flood prevention, protection and mitigation COM(2004) 472 final of 12/07/2004.

(3)  Regulation No 1698/2005 on rural development and the EAFRD.

(4)  Opinion CESE 125/2005, see footnote 1, OJ C 221, 8.9.2005.

(5)  See points 3.2 and 3.3 of opinion CESE 125/2005, OJ C 221, 8.9.2005.