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Speeding up to water resilience: insights from the European Water Conference

Mar 21, 2024
On March 12, the European Water Conference took place in Leuven, under the title "Speeding up to a water resilient Europe". Over 200 policy makers and water sector experts from across Europe participated in this event, organized by the Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) as part of the Belgian EU Presidency. The conference offered valuable perspectives and insights on water resilience in Europe.

The conference focused on the growing challenges of water management within the EU, with a focus on drought, water scarcity and floods. Key speakers emphasized the need for an integrated approach to sustainable water management and strengthening Europe's water resilience.

Sustainable water management as a key theme

Ms. Florika Fink-Hooijer, Director General of the Environment Department of the European Commission, opened the conference, highlighting the link between climate risks, biodiversity loss and pollution, and the need for more ambitious policies to promote water resilience. She stressed that therefore an integrated approach is essential for achieving these goals and pointed out the significant investment gap in water management.

Scientific insights and challenges

Professor Patrick Willems of KU Leuven discussed the changing risks of hydrological extremes and how they lead to continued global warming. He argued that the EU and its member states should develop an ambitious plan to increase water resilience, with the Flemish Blue Deal serving as an example because of its integration of investment, regulation, communication, innovation and monitoring in water management.

Policy and strategic approaches

During the session "Sketching the Future for a Water Resilient Europe," several perspectives were presented. For example, the Flemish Minister of the Environment referred to the Flemish Blue Deal as a model for a European Blue Deal because it also provides for local participation and commits to ecological measures. Pietro Francesco De Lotto of the European Economic and Social Committee spoke about the need for concrete measures and proposed a European Blue Deal, while Karl Vanlouwe of the European Committee of the Regions focused on cross-border cooperation and water innovation.

Regional challenges and solutions

Mr. Paolo Ferrecchi from the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna shared his region's experiences with severe droughts and floods, stressing the need for a structural review of water management. Landscape-oriented measures and a proactive approach to water management are crucial here .

Future vision and action paths

Trine Christiansen of the European Environment Agency, gave initial insight into the "State of Water 2024" report highlighting the pressures on European waters and the need for increased water efficiency and improved circularity. This report states, among other things, that nature restoration and supporting water-dependent habitats are essential for increasing water resilience.

Panel discussions

The panel discussion on "Evidence-based options for achieving a water resilient Europe" featured several innovations and approaches, such as the vision Water-Smart Society by Hans Goossens of Water Europe, who argued for a synergy between ecology and economy in water management. The discussion underscored the importance of involving all stakeholders, from local to European level, to promote a collective approach and co-creation in water management.

The final discussion, "Towards a Smart Water Society," emphasized the intrinsic value of water and the need for integrated and nature-based solutions. It called for a new EU law on climate and water resilience and a strong emphasis on ecosystem restoration.


Bernard De Potter, administrator general of the VMM, summarized the key points and stressed the importance of immediate action and scaling up the Flemish Blue Deal to a European level. He recognized the fundamental value of water and the need for innovative solutions for water resilience. De Potter emphasized the need for a systemic approach, the importance of learning through experience and working with diverse stakeholders.

The conference concluded with a networking lunch. In the afternoon, some of the attendees followed one of five water-related excursions in and around Leuven. An ideal opportunity to gain inspiration and look ahead to new collaborations.

Water, air and the environment. These are the three domains in which VMM is active.

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