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Rivers know no borders, nor do floods...

Rivers know no borders. Nor do floods. Because of this, in the wake of the disasters of 2002 and 2005 the EU Member States agreed, on a proposal from the Commission, to do more to share the management of flood risks.

In a vote today, Parliament beefed up the proposed measures and approved an agreement reached with the Council. As a result the new directive is all but adopted. The Member States will have two years to apply it. The new directive, to be enacted in national law by mid-2009, provides for three stages:

- preliminary flood risk assessments to be completed by the end of 2011 (thanks to MEPs, this is a year earlier than originally planned);

- flood hazard maps and flood risk maps to be compiled by the end of 2013;

- flood risk management plans to be devised by the end of 2015.

Greater solidarity
The directive sets out the technical detail of these three stages on the basis of standard criteria which should considerably improve risk management at European level. MEPs also strengthened the principle of solidarity between Member States, which will have to „refrain from taking measures or engaging in actions which significantly increase the risk of flooding in other Member States, unless these measures have been coordinated”.

Climate change
This solidarity will be needed all the more since climate change is expected to lead to increased rainfall throughout central Europe over the next few decades. MEPs successfully pushed for the directive to refer to climate change, which will have to be taken into account in the preliminary assessments as well as in the report that the Commission is required to draw up in 2018 on the implementation of the directive.

Soil management
Natural floodplains, with their capacity for water retention, will also play an increasingly important role. MEPs therefore added to the text that floodplains must be maintained and/or restored where possible.  They are also to be included in the preliminary assessments and the management plans. More broadly, says Parliament, the Member States should take account of the potential impact of their land use policies on flood risks.  In addition, they call for management plans to include measures to encourage land use practices which are sustainable and improve water retention.

Sources of pollution
The original draft directive focused chiefly on preventing risks to humans and avoiding economic damage.  Parliament insisted that environmental damage also be taken into account and, as a result, flood risk maps will have to include data on major sources of pollution.

The annex to the directive describes what flood risk management plans should consist of. Any subsequent changes to this annex will be carried out under the new rules governing comitology (the technical committees of national officials who advise the Commission) and will be subject to scrutiny by Parliament.  MEPs also successfully demanded that the plans should lay down priorities among the measures to be taken.

Public participation and information
At first reading Parliament had already managed to tighten up the provisions on public participation and information. In particular, the preliminary assessments, the maps and the management plans will have to be accessible to the public, which should also be encouraged to take part in the compilation and updating of management plans. Also at Parliament's instigation, the directive will not only cover river floods but also sea flooding of coastal zones.  However, in the negotiations for an agreement, Parliament dropped its demand for flooding from sewers to be included in the directive. (EP Press)