In 2005 catastrophic floods caused 40 deaths in Europe, mainly in Romania but also in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
In 2002 around 250 Europeans lost their lives in similar calamities. These disasters are happening more often and seem likely to become more serious. Parliament's Environment Committee is therefore keen for EU Member States to take firmer preventive measures. In early 2006 the European Commission put forward a draft directive on the assessment and management of flood risks, the aim being to induce Member States to coordinate better, for the purposes of risk assessment and for drawing up maps and coordinated management plans.
After all, rivers know no frontiers: the Danube basin stretches through 18 European countries, including 10 EU Member States. At Parliament's first reading vote on 13 June 2006, MEPs called for the threats to human health and the environmental impact of floods to be reflected better in risk management plans. For example, polluting factories should not be built in areas liable to flooding and flood plains should be protected or even restored.
The Council's common position acknowledges the need for Member States to coordinate their efforts on flood plains better but leaves out many of Parliament's amendments. Today, 27 February, at its second reading vote, the Environment Committee decided that the Council had not committed itself to taking sufficient action. In a report by Richard Seeber, Austrian politician, MEPs reinstated many of Parliament's first-reading amendments.
Taking account of climate change
The Environment Committee says that even preliminary flood risk assessments must take account of foreseeable climate change. It is known that climate change will lead to increased rainfall in the north and north-east and hence to more flooding, especially in central areas of the EU. The European Environment Agency says that by 2070 the water volume carried by the rivers of north and north-eastern Europe will have grown by 50% or more!
Forecasts indicate that rainfall will not only be more intense but also more frequent. MEPs therefore voted for assessments to take account of future, not just current, risks and for such assessments to look also at the effectiveness of existing arrangements for flood prevention. The committee also wants maps of flood-prone areas and related risks to cover coastal areas and to show any risks of environmental pollution, for example any industries that might cause problems. The maps should also seek to protect wild fauna and flora.
Prevention is best
However, climate change is not the only cause of the growing number of disasters. Human activities, especially the use of land (for example construction, deforestation, farming), also play a part. MEPs are therefore calling for maps and risk management plans to cover flood plains. The state of flood plains, especially the amount of water they retain, has an impact on the downstream environment.
MEPs also voted for all policies which can have an impact in this area (agriculture, transport, industry) to take account of flood risks. And they demanded a review of any subsidies to activities which increase risks. Several other amendments seek to strengthen the principle of solidarity between Member States, for example stating that management plans must take account of measures taken upstream and downstream. MEPs also flesh out the detail of these plans so that they protect wetlands more and prevent the construction of new buildings in flood zones.
Lastly, a number of amendments were adopted seeking to bring the new text into line with the framework directive on water and with the new comitology rules, which ensure that the EP is fully involved in any technical changes made later to the legislation by committees of experts. (EP Press)