Between 1998 and 2004, Europe suffered more than 100 major flooding events, including the catastrophic floods along the Danube and Elbe rivers in the summer of 2002. In the wake of these events, the European Commission has embarked on the development of a European policy on flood risk management, resulting in a proposal for a floods Directive that was tabled in January 2006. This paper by Thomas Dworak and Benjamin Görlach tracks the development of the European approach to flood risk management and discusses future options for a European policy on floods.
The authors set out by summarising the development of a European initiative on flooding which was launched after the 2002 floods, and give an overview of the existing regulations that shape the political landscape in which flood risk management takes place, such as the WFD and the CAP.
The Authors then turn to different strategies that are being discussed to address the problem of flooding in the future. An effective flood risk management programme will generally combine different elements, including measures targeted at flood prevention, protection, preparedness, and emergency response. Faced with the expected impacts of climate change, and given the experiences with structural flood protection measures, it can be argued that “classical”, technical flood protection measures will still have a role to play, but may have reached their limit in many instances. By contrast, measures targeted at flood prevention and reducing the damage risk are expected to play an increasing role in the next years, especially if they can be better integrated with the implementation of the WFD.
The nascent European Strategy on flooding adopts a river basin approach, in line with the general direction of European water policy. Flooding is, however, not only a water management issue as it also relates to land use planning and soil protection. Especially for flood prevention, the reform of the CAP, the Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection and the European Spatial Development Perspective provide excellent opportunities for better policy integration.
In order to meet these challenges, Member States have to co-operate and co-ordinate the development and implementation of flood risk management plans at the river basin level to prevent problems from being passed from one area to another. Flood risk maps also serve as a tool for planning and communication. The Commission has to serve as facilitator and should co-ordinate information exchange on flood protection and the promotion of best practices as well as ensure that all relevant EU policies contribute to flood protection.