6th Dec 2023

Droughts could be the rule rather than the exception in Europe

  • Europe is currently wasting between 20 and 40 percent of water sources available (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission has kicked off an EU-wide political debate, aimed at establishing the "right" pricing on water as well as promoting water-saving habits such as efficient devices on shower heads. This comes with the prospect of most EU countries suffering from droughts by 2070.

"The major impacts of water scarcity and droughts are expected to be made worse by climate change", EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas warned on Wednesday (18 July), adding "we thus need an integrated approach on water".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Brussels is set to push EU member states to apply a "user pays" principle and introduce compulsory metering programmes – something that they have committed to do by 2010, but so far have shown a lack of enthusiasm for.

For example, Germany and Austria still provide free-of-fees water for the agricultural sector.

"We need to put the right price on water which would reflect the level of water scarcity ... and provides incentive [for users] to economize water use", Peter Gammeltoft from the Commision's environment directorate said, while warning EU capitals of legal steps if they failed to fulfil their commitments.

According to Pieter de Pous from the European Environmental Bureau, "the Commission is right to support charging the right price for water", although failed to provide sufficient answers to all challenges.

"It is ignoring whether we should continue to grow water-hungry crops in places where water is increasingly scarce. What we really need is radically different water management", Mr de Pous added, underlining the fact that farming is one of the thirstiest users.

It is responsible for 44 percent of all water abstracted in Europe.

Shift in people's minds needed

In addition, the EU's executive body said it was inevitable to promote water-efficient technology and habits such as using water-saving devices on taps, shower heads and toilets as well as an efficient irrigation system.

"We need to create a public opinion and culture similar to what we did for energy", Mr Gammeltoft said, underlining Europe is currently wasting between 20 and 40 percent of the water sources available.

According to the commission's findings, the droughts are no longer limited to southern Europe, but are fast spreading to other parts of the 27-nation bloc – due to global warming as well as increasing demand for water linked to growing population and economies.

By 2070, water scarcity and droughts are expected to be "the rule rather than the exception", with Ireland, the UK, Scandinavian countries and north of Germany being the only EU states listed among those exceptions.

"All activities should be adapted to the amount of water available locally", Brussels warned, stressing the time has come to address the quantity of water at the EU level.

In the course of past 30 years, the costs of droughts to the EU economy have mounted to €100 billion, while the average annual cost quadrupled in that time.

Adapting to Southern Europe's 'new normal' — from droughts to floods

Extreme weather events in recent months have worsened agricultural production in southern Europe, prompting concerns for authorities in Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. As countries will likely face dryer conditions, experts urge adaptation measures for the 'new normal'.

Almost two-thirds of Europe in danger of drought

Data released by the European Drought Observatory show 60 percent of Europe and the United Kingdom is currently in a state of drought, with farming, homes and industry being affected. Drought conditions have also led to an increase in wildfires.

Polish truck protest at Ukraine border disrupts war supplies

Disruption at the Polish-Ukrainian border by disaffected Polish truckers is escalating, potentially affecting delivery of military aid to Ukraine. A Polish request to reintroduce permits for Ukrainian drivers has been described as "a shot to the head" during war.


Tense EU-China summit showdown unlikely to bear fruit

EU leaders will meet their Chinese counterparts in Beijing for the first face-to-face summit since 2019. Their agenda includes trade imbalances, economic security, Ukraine and human rights — what can be expected by the end of 48 hours of talks?


Tusk's difficult in-tray on Poland's judicial independence

What is obvious is that PiS put in place a set of interlocking safeguards for itself which, even after their political defeat in Poland, will render it very difficult for the new government to restore the rule of law.

Latest News

  1. Crunch talks seek breakthrough on EU asylum overhaul
  2. Polish truck protest at Ukraine border disrupts war supplies
  3. 'Green' banks lend most to polluters, reveals ECB
  4. Tense EU-China summit showdown unlikely to bear fruit
  5. A look to the past and the future of China-EU relations
  6. Tusk's difficult in-tray on Poland's judicial independence
  7. EU nears deal to fingerprint six year-old asylum seekers
  8. Orbán's Ukraine-veto threat escalates ahead of EU summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  3. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  4. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?
  5. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  6. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us