THE European Commission has hit back strongly at comments that EU rules are hindering flood relief works.
In a statement this week, the Commission said that ‘any suggestion that EU environmental rules are somehow to blame for the recent severe flooding in Ireland is completely without foundation’.
EU law does not ban dredging, it states. ‘The Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the Floods Directive do not include detailed rules on how Member States manage their water courses. That is decided by the Member States themselves,’ it said.
It added: ‘The Irish Government does not need to notify the European Commission about plans to dredge rivers as there is no such obligation in EU legislation. EU Nature Directives (Birds and Habitats) do not prevent measures being taken to protect lives and property. In particular they provide for situations of ‘over-riding public interest’ to permit activities that might damage a Natura 2000 site, but which are necessary for human welfare. The Directives do, however, require an assessment of the options available before a conclusion is reached that such damage is unavoidable.’ However, it sounded a note of caution about dredging. ‘Dredging is not always the solution for flooding. It may help to sort out a local problem but it may also transport the problem downstream, sometimes from rural to urban areas where the damage on properties and economic activities can be much higher. Therefore the basin-wide approach included in EU policies is essential to find effective and long-term solutions.’
It also pointed out that the EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF) was established to respond to major natural disasters and express European solidarity to disaster-stricken regions in Europe. There are also programmes co-financed by the European Structural and Investment Funds for 2014-2020 which aim to invest in flood prevention and to mitigate against the impact of climate change. ‘In 2014-2020 Ireland will receive almost €705m for investments in Climate Change Adaptation & Risk Prevention,’ it pointed out.
‘EU environmental legislation does not prevent taking action to address the problems of flooding but rather provides a framework to help ensure the environmental sustainability of any such measures,’ it concluded.