What is it about?

The Water Framework Directive is an EU legislation whose objective was to attain a good ecological status for all European water bodies (surface, transitional, coastal and groundwaters) by the end of 2015. It gave Member States a large margin of discretion in the interpretation and implementation of its provisions, which has contributed to the currently still largely mediocre quality of most European waters. However, two judgments delivered by the Court of Justice provide a strict interpretation of the directive’s provisions in the domain of surface waters. The first establishes that any deterioration of the ecological status, even if small, is prohibited. The second specifies that, except for derogation, temporary, short-term degradations are similarly forbidden.

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Why is it important?

Water pollution is still one of the main aspects of the environmental crisis. While the Water Framework Directive has successfully slowed down the increase in new pollutions, it has not achieved its objectives regarding the restoration of water bodies to a good status. The prohibitions put forth in the two judgments being equally applicable to all types of water bodies, said judgments may lead to an enhancement in their management and, in turn, in an effective improvement of their quality.

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This page is a summary of: The EU’s Stringent Jurisdictional Protection of Its Surface Waters, Journal for European Environmental & Planning Law, June 2023, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/18760104-20020006.
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