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Reflections of the EU directive on Wetlands

In consideration of the European Directive on Wetlands, we ask specifically for following modifications of the directive 2000/60/EC:

  1. in reference to the Treaty establishing the European Community, and in consideration of the opinions expressed at that time by the European Commission, by the Social and Economic Committee and by the Committee of the Regions, we wish the voices of local communities to be heard and at the same time, to link environmental with cultural competence at local level with regards to EU legislation, for

    a) while we agree that water is not a mere commercial product and a vital heritage,

    b) we perceive water as a living element which has to be related to and actively used in the present and future sense, while preserving as part of cultural heritage past wisdoms on how water was used, treated and celebrated

    c) and this use has to go with all the wisdom and knowledge mankind has accummulated over time about water and its exemplatory derivative, about wetlands.

  2. the ecological quality of water is too restrictive and too technical a term to do justice to what water constitutes. Therefore, local initiatives shall for the sake of future development seek to enrich the current directive, in order to safeguard water. As this has to be linked with anticipation of what is in store for mankind if certain laws are not heeded and problems related with water ignored for too long a time (water shortage leading to conflict, if not war), this memorandum of understanding wants to draw attention to a key conclusion of the workshop and conference 'imperishable water'. For as key element of sustainability, we refer to water having also the mental and therefore cultural aspect as to how water is being treated. This should include reflections under which conditions water can be obtained, in particular drinkable water, and how diverse European cultures regard water as key element for their own self understanding. Thus the cultural understanding of water has to be maintained at the same high level as the technical, economical and environmental monitoring capacities of the quality of water in the European Union.

  3. Specifically we shall ask for a report about efforts made in the direction of a sustainable water management to safeguard groundwater; above all, we worry about the rapid increase in build over surfaces of the earth, preventing thereby rainwater of entering the ground and thereby feeding the underground water resservoirs. As construction, illegal drilling, over use of water by irrigation systems but also use of water for swimming pools and watering of the plants has made consumption of water into equally a huge waste of water, new measures are needed to specify what the EU vision for 2020 understands as smart growth in terms of water management and sustainable development. Local communities ask for specific guidance on how to overcome the current system of water waste and consumption at the neglect of the need for concrete environmental protection measures.

  4. Water quality can be retained by retaining the quality of the physical and man built environment with additional measures being what ecological artists have introduced already, namely the use of wetlands and water parks to allow for experiences of different qualities of water in order to empower people to be able to judge and to taste different qualities of water before development further ideas on how these lessons learned in wetlands and water parks can be transferred and put in context of local environments starting with the cleaning of rivers and shorelines from rubbish all the way to filtering what is thrown or emptied into the water at various spots (urban centres, suburbanian settlements, farms, industrial and tourist hot spots). Thus the active use of artistic means can help safeguard the quality of water.

  5. Since a new framework is needed to include local communities in a comprehensive system of a sustainable water management system, the different share holders should agree that the main empowerment of future management should go not to private or public bodies, but to people who in communal settings have access on a daily basis to data concerning the water management system.

  6. Since these new principles will require a bottom-up communication system within the European Union, the convergence of environmental, social, economic and cultural principles shall be included in a new directive linking cultural governance with how in future the new directive on water and wetlands can be treated as outcome of local consultation and information processes. As this shall entail the communication what limitations have been reached or even been surpassed or violated, with far reaching implications for neighboring localities, the impact assessment should result in a growing awareness what needs to be done within the European Union to attain an ecological and cultural balance with regards to water and in particular fresh and ground water.

  7. This memorandum shall be presented to members of the European Parliament, in particular to the Committee on Culture and on the Environment, so as to conjoin with the Commission a new system of regulation, monitoring and management, whereby wetlands as integral part in the overall concept of water should be used as reference in order to correct any possible misunderstandings due to the high degree of abstraction reached whenever water but not a concrete body like wetlands is being referred to.

  8. Since the Commission communicated to the European Parliament on 29 May 1995 a wise use of water by giving recognition to the important functions wetlands perform for the protection of water resources, this Memorandum of Understanding seeks to communicate through the European Parliament to the European Commission that this directive has to be actualized and contextualized in view of developments since 1995 and with regards to the EU vision for 2020 as an 'economy of experience' does not necessarily include the experiences of water to be attained by retaining wetlands as natural and untouched land.

  9. Given the fact that European integration has not gone in a direction which would give culture and the environment equal competence, and the fact that more the open method of cooperation is used than implementing policy out of a position of full integration, there is a need to enhance better co-ordination between the various levels of governance (local, communal, regional, national, European and international), so that wetlands and the issue of water can be dealt with within an understanding that can make actions, measures, organisational and technical means be consistent with the EU directive on the wetlands (alternative to the socalled integrated policy on water).

  10. Framework for European water policy has been put forth by the European Commission, but the estrangement of EU institutions from the realities on the ground requires a new review of governance in Europe. For this the EU institutions need not merely a mandate not merely from the Member states, but a moral legitimacy on the basis of citizen participation.

  11. Therefore Article 174 on the Environment will need to be made compatible with such actions that take the culture into consideration, in order to develop out of this a comprehensive approach. Framework conditions would mean here the Committee for the Environment and for Culture work together on a joint follow-up report. The flaw of the previous formulation lies in the phrase 'precautionary policy' insofar as the pollutant shall have to pay. But if the pollutant is the entire society and the course of development, then no one and all are guilty of causing damage to the environment. This requires a reflection of environmental law and what it means to protect the environment especially when it is not possible to single out one guilty party based on a causal relationship being rectified through a policy of imposing fines. If cultural considerations are included, then precautionary and preventive measures become but a small part of what should be a positive approach aiming to connect people with nature and the environment.

  12. Since a balanced development is desired, the call to take scientific data and specific information of localities, communities and regions into consideration has to reconsidered. There is a flood of information while use of google maps can help to recognize problematic areas but certainly between gathering information, evaluating it and taking further measures huge time gaps have incurred. It seems only when a real crisis hits society, then exactly those measures are taken which have been demanded already for a long time, but neglected since no one seemed to recognize their necessity. It should further come to a comparison of a different use of data by scientists, actionists, artists, children and members of local communities. Alone the example of weather observatories and their models and predictions with regards to climate change should be taken as a precaution that this knowledge base is contested and very often not reliable either by scientists playing the devil's advocate or else they are reluctant to go public with their findings. Clearly costs and benefits of certain actions or lack thereof cannot be used as basis of calculation when CO emission swaps have made possible imbalanced developments under the premise they are counter balanced elsewhere. There seems to be a model of natural development behind this kind of perception whereas the real damage – irrevocable since deforestation cannot be reversed once all trees are gone and through subsequent rain falls soil erosion has set in – is overlooked. How then to calculate the costs of certain actions to protect water and wetlands will have to be examined and put into such terms that also the impossibility to go swimming in that specific water has also a price tag. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and how costs of damage inflicted upon fishing and tourist communities have been calculated, this may serve as a possible model in need to be extracted out of current ways of handling such damages inflicted by a single pollutant of the environment.

  13. How to perceive the problem within the local context if affected by global developments rather than what can be done alone at local level? The call for taking into consideration the diversity of local conditions and the need to take into account specific factors is plausible but only in a limited way. Since the directive speaks here about the need to take diversity into account when planning and executing measures taken to protect and to ensure sustainable use of water in the framework of a river basin, this is such a specific location when in fact so many share holders of different capacities tend to use a river, that no single use may be defined as good practice. Naturally over time there have been established a whole range of conventions and measures to indicate this framework having some binding nature. At the same time, water issues is not merely a matter of combining member states with the EU initiative, for this has lead to false compromises with the local factor being usually left out even though it is recommended that decisions should be taken as much as possible in close cooperation with local communities and actors. For what happens when EU funds to widen a harbor means destroying wetlands as was the case when the harbor of Rhodes was expanded? The same conflict exists in the harbor of Volos with the port authority wishing to claim that extra land.

  14. Given the insight that success depends upon close cooperation between the EU and member states but in inclusion of the local level, the strived for coherence in the action should take on a language which links the people through the poetic wisdom to the river first of all, and therefore leave the 'imperishable water' as something to be preserved and to be sustained. That upholding of a certain state means avoiding taking such decisions which would severely intervene in the environment and destroy the ecological balance while not being off set by the type of development favored by economic actors.

  15. In reference of 'service of water as being of general interest', this would have to mean no private ownership of water in order to make a financial profit out of human dependency from water. Yet water is not provided merely by pipes but in bottles and has become a wide spread business with even water services being put into private hands due to neo liberal ideologies. Instead of 'service' being of 'general interest', it would be advisable to search for a clarification was to what is in the interest of all that all have equal access to water.

  16. Dialogue is understood by the directive as inclusion of other policy areas including energy, transport, agriculture, fisheries, regional development and tourism. In particular, the ESDP – the European Spatial Development Policy – is called for to be taken into consideration. However, the contradictions between various policy measures means as well environmental impact studies are often reasons to misguide decision makers rather than raise the awareness of adverse imnpact upon the environment. Often this contradiction is produced by favoritism and special privileges given to large investors who can override environmental concerns. Moreover, the separation between environment and planning is something in need to be looked into since legislation fails to be consistent when it comes to following the directive on the Environment. For political decisions to mature not merely dialogue is needed but collaborative learning and a very different approch to political decision making. This would mean as well the European Parliament should be the initiator of legislation and not the Commission. There has to be brought about a new ethical base for European decision making if any progress is to be made in the understanding as to what measures are needed on the basis of a cultural consensus defining those general interests.

  17. The appeal to economic reason is short changing Europeans from having water and water supplies not limited or reduced to mere economic use. As Levy Strauss put it, Indians described nature in categories far richer than what they needed to survive. The valorization chain behind this kind of economic cost-benefit reasoning might preconclude what measures have a chance to be accepted but then the real benefits are sidelined while economic benefits are high lighted e.g. protecting a river and the waters flowing from the inland into these water bodies can enhance the fish population and therefore provide the fishing community with a source of income. As this underlines the readiness to still exploit nature rather than live with nature, the reductionism which comes into play almost automatically distorts the framework of evaluation and silences those voices which put quite other values to what would be an untouched nature. But freedom of man's interference has to be perceived as something positive even though often the argument goes without man's control even forests will not regenerate themselves. Consequently the solution has pointed all the more in the direction of creating cultural landscapes in which a natural, social, cultural and economic use of water is done in respect of preserving this landscape.

  18. While common principles should be proposed, subsidiarity is taken into consideration. This means the framework for policy to be coherent, effective and transparent falls short of its self described demand. This is because the formel sought to work within Europe cannot be based on 'should'-like appeals to ensure that common principles of preserving and using water are upheld and observed. Interestingly enough the directive is taken to mean to coordinate and to integrate, while developing within a long term perspective the overall principles and structures to become more effective. This kind of postponement reflects the tempo of negotiations within the European Union and does not lead anywhere. A clarification is needed as to what is to be understood under 'sustainable water' but not in accordance with principles of subsidarity but with a new type of governance allowing for cultural development to relate to technical innovation. With climate change altering rain falls, there is a need for a new adjustment to water use and water distribution. A new directive needs to link water supply with readjusting policy in accordance with the need to become self sufficient at local level while aware of the composition of the whole Europe. As this depends on the conditions of water resservoirs, a new stipulation is needed to figure out lawful use of water in relation to the need to preserve water as natural element. Any active use has to be off-set by an active form of preservation. The types of interventions will have to be codified in accordance with what are legal measures. Overall such a framework has to make explicit what directive is suitable to bring Europe forward on issues of water and wetlands, rivers and lakes, and underground reservoirs with groundwater levels deemed already as a means of measuring what needs to be safeguared.

  19. If the directive's aim of 2000 was to improve the aquatic environment due to being primarily concerned with the quality of water, it reduced this measure to a mere quantity being used as if there is no such thing as taste and water available in various quantities without being polluted. Quality of water has to be ensured in different ways. Especially when it comes to not polluting existing sources while cleaning waste water (cities and sewage system) to be reused. In some cases, cities do seperate water flows in accordance with functions, the watering of trees and plants in the city different from making available drinking water. As technology has advanced in the ability to measure the quality of water, so has been the artistic input for helping to improve the taste quality. It should be noted that a lot depends on what grounds water cover or come through before being drinkable. The notion that the water quality has to be improved is, however, misleading, as it justifies interventions in areas where the original water quality was much better prior to purification systems were installed. Consequently the aim of the directive has to be reformulated while the need for wetlands to ensure water quality should be stated explicitly.

  20. The may be status has to be improved upon as learning hypothesis as to how governance and water management should be conceived in future. Right now, the hypothesis in the existing directive is as follows: The quantitative status of a body of groundwater may have an impact on the ecological quality of surface waters and terrestrial ecosystems associated with that groundwater body.“ There has to be stated more explicitly under which conditions the 'ecological quality of surface water' can be guaranteed by retaining an intact groundwater flow. For instance, in Greece the increasing construction covers in the meantime too much of the surface of the earth as to let sufficient rain water sicker into the ground to feed the underground water resservoirs. Also the surface of the earth is becoming increasingly a carpet of all kinds of pollution making contamination of water the likely outcome. Further studies should be undertaken in this direction to ensure maximum awareness as to what is happening to the groundwater both in terms of quality and level.

  21. The directive jumps here to international agreements which are designed to prevent pollution of marine waters, but this touches upon various national-external relationships and does not examine how entry into these international agreements has also implications for internal water management systems e.g. rivers flowing into the sea. Thus the aim to help member states fulfill their obligations does not perceive as of yet the European Union as a responsible entity nor does it cover the other forms and ways of pollution which can affect and do impinge upon the quality of water. A review of international agreements entered since 2000 would also be needed to update this section of the directive.

  22. If the directive has been initiated to reduce emissions of hazardous substances to water, what can be said about impact and effectiveness? Has progress been made or are in the real world not contradictory developments which off-set whatever measures local, regional and national authorities adopt e.g. the increase in boat traffic and especially in motorized pleasure boats. In a recent report about Venice, it is stated that the growing number of huge cruise ships is adding strain not only to the precarious foundation of Venice, but also contributes in terms of pollution and noise to an already unstable environment. Yet the tourism industry follows the trend of having ever larger cruise ships with 2 500 people aboard service customers who prefer to visit briefly cities like Venice and then return on board to their floating hotel rooms. The waste output of the computer industry has not even been established, never mind the increase in road traffic and its impact upon the landscapes driven through. The entire economic system based on 'just on time' deliverance of both parts and final products means less use of warehouses and more storage on wheels i.e. trucks so that while production costs are reduced, the environment altogether is burdened to a much greater extent then what could even be anticipated in 2000 and before.

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