The MEP Water Group fosters the value of water and a water-smart society in Europe. It aims to highlight the role of water as a cross-cutting topic in EU decision-making to ensure the sustainable management of European water resources. Ms Pernille Weiss, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), has been newly appointed the chairwoman of the MEP Water Group. In this interview, she shares with us her thoughts about the challenges ahead for European water policy and management as she takes on this new role.
Question: Firstly, we would like to know briefly your career path and your current involvement with environment and water issues in the European Parliament.
Answer: I am a politician from the Conservative People’s Party of Denmark and a member of the European People’s Party, EPP in the European Parliament, who has recently been appointed as the new chair of the MEP Water Group. It is a new challenge I am very excited about.
Prior to being an MEP, I worked as a nurse (RN) and I have a Master of health science and one in Innovation & Leadership. I have also been head manager in the public health care sector and owner of a consultancy company in the building sector for the last 12 years before the election last year.
Water has endless possibilities that need to be unlocked. It's all about how we both use and re-use the water we have at our disposal
Currently, I am holding a seat in the Industry, Research & Energy Committee and in the Committee on the Environment Public Health and Food Safety. It is especially within ENVI, that my policy focus has been on topics such as the energy-efficiency of the EU building stock and unlocking the potential of wastewater.
By its very nature, water is in constant circulation. In all communities, we have a shared responsibility to manage our water resources effectively and to bear in mind the impacts that water use can have on other sectors.
The lessons we are learning with this pandemic reinforce my conviction that water is at the heart of society. Water has endless possibilities that need to be unlocked. It's all about how we both use and re-use the water we have at our disposal, both as a resource and as a source of energy.
Q: You have been appointed the new chair of the MEP Water Group. What does this mean for you and what are your priorities as you take this role?
A: It is both a great honour and challenge that I happily accept.
The MEP Water Group is the focal point for the water topic in the European Parliament. A forum that aims to raise the profile of water in EU decision-making to make sure that Europe’s water resources are managed in a sustainable way to the benefit of the European economy and society as a whole.
I focus on the Group’s main priorities, which include raising the importance of water for the European Union and beyond, making sure that Europe’s water resources are managed sustainably and equitably, encouraging technological innovations and research to tackle water-related challenges and promoting and assuring clean water for all.
The MEP Water Group aims to raise the profile of water to make sure that Europe’s water resources are managed in a sustainable way
The Green Deal’s focus on CO2 emissions and energy efficiency will be a red line for me as a chair and the MEP water group. Industry, housing and public infrastructure need to embrace this transition, as well as the water sector itself.
Only 2.4% of the treated urban wastewater effluents are reused annually in Europe. It is a huge untapped potential for our society, particularly for the regions that suffer most from water scarcity. The EU already has several solutions that simply need to be up-scaled.
As such, new initiatives need financing; a sound cost recovery principle throughout the European water sector is a good example. However, the Just Transition Fund, the green taxonomy, as well as the Horizon Europe programme, can all contribute to developing good and integrated water solutions to support the European water industry and all EU citizens.
Q: What do you think are the most pressing challenges for EU water policy?
A: There are many problems in the water economy and sustainable management of water resources in Europe. The majority of Europeans are worried about both water quantity and quality.
We need to ensure that Europe’s water resources are managed in a sustainable and equitable way to the benefit of the European economy and society. Treated water needs to be safe and accessible for all. The MEP Water Group will therefore also enhance the need to tackle pollution at source.
Urban runoff, micro-plastics, pharmaceuticals and other emerging contaminants impact our ecosystem and health. That it going to be one of our major challenges.
The MEP Water Group stands for the motto of monitoring, preventing and remedy to eliminate pollution for a better quality of life
Moreover, droughts, floods and chemical pollution are significant challenges. Therefore, we need an integrated approach to the future of water resources in Europe.
In the coming months, I hope that we will have the chance to update the Urban Waste Water Directive and make sure that this directive from 1991 is fit for purpose to foster the green recovery. That is also going to be a pressing challenge.
Q: The MEP Water Group aims to place water higher on the European political agenda. What are your thoughts on how to raise the profile of water in the EU and beyond?
A: With climate change, water risk management is one of the greatest challenges humanity faces today. However, water remains invisible in politics. Only when we start looking at the support the water sector provides to all the other sectors of our society, can we realise its quintessential position.
The MEP Water Group listens to the concerns and priorities of the water sector, as reflected at a European level. It is an effective driver for placing water higher on the European political agenda and beyond and shaping the future EU Water policy, making sure that water management is consistently considered in EU legislation.
I hope we will have the chance to update the Urban Waste Water Directive and make sure it is fit for purpose to foster the green recovery
In the coming months, the EU will focus on several topics evolving around water management: The Industrial Emissions Directive, the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive and the zero-pollution strategy are among them. That is partly how the profile of water will be raised at the EU-level.
Q: What do you think about the role of the water for climate change in the European Green Deal in particular?
A: Water in its various forms is the most important substance for the climate system. Water vapour is a greenhouse gas; it is even more effective at absorbing the thermal radiation from the Earth's surface than carbon dioxide.
So the European Green Deal starts with water!
Water will play a pivotal role in the EU Green Deal, particularly for Clean Energy, Sustainable Industry, Biodiversity, and the “Farm to Fork” strategy, thus heading to the realisation of a “Water Smart Society.”
Q: In your view, how can research and innovation help to address water-related challenges?
A: The wide adoption of technologies such as Big Data, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, is transforming the traditional operations, generating new business and empowering new skills. Despite relevant progress and innovation in the digital water field, several barriers hinder the implementation of Smart Water Technologies.
Therefore, we need to digitalise the sector and develop green infrastructure in order to be ready for the next crisis.
Despite progress and innovation in the digital water field, several barriers hinder the implementation of Smart Water Technologies
Our Group will encourage technological and non-technological innovations and research to tackle water-related challenges by supporting entrepreneurs and fostering job creation in the green sector.
We need a wide forum for analysis of technological opportunities and weaknesses of digital water services, effective deployment of intelligent solutions, mechanisms to build synergies and strategies to grow an active community.
Q: What are the plans of the MEP Water Group regarding the promotion of clean water and sanitation for all in order to achieve SDG 6?
A: Safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 requires investments inadequate infrastructure, sanitation facilities, and encouragement of hygiene. Protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems is also essential.
The MEP Water Group, therefore, stands for the motto of monitoring, preventing and remedy to eliminate pollution for a better quality of life (water, soil, air), and the restoration of the natural functions of ground and surface water.
It is time we adapted our water management to the challenges we face – that includes tapping the potential in water.