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Blaming Brussels will not help British people affected by flooding

January 12, 2016 11:59 AM
By Alan Bullion

The recent severe flooding in parts of the UK has caused serious distress to many people.

These floods occurred as a result of a period of record rainfall in the regions most severely affected.

EU environmental protection policies help prevent and deal with flooding. The EU also leads the world in tackling climate change, which most experts see as a factor in extreme weather events.

The Common Agricultural Policy encourages farmers to take "greening" measures that can contribute to mitigating flooding.

EU regional and research programmes invest substantially in flood prevention, protection and management.

Yet some media have seemed unwilling to recognise that exceptionally heavy rain - rather than "Brussels bureaucrats" - causes more water to flow into rivers than can be contained there.

In addition, it is always worth reiterating that EU legislation is decided by the Member States, including the UK, and by the directly-elected European Parliament, who can reject or amend proposals by the Commission. So EU laws are made IN Brussels, but not "BY" Brussels.

Dredging decided by member states

The EU's Water Framework Directive has been the piece of EU legislation most criticised by certain media, on the basis that it "bans dredging".

But that is incorrect - the Directive does not ban dredging.

Whether to dredge is a decision for Member States based on the local situation. The UK Environment Agency was widely reported as saying - in one case in the very same Daily Mail article alleging that the practice was "banned by Brussels" - that it had spent £21m on dredging over the last two years.

There have also been suggestions that the Waste Framework Directive forbids dredged sediment being spread elsewhere. Again, this is not true, unless the sediment is hazardous, for example if it contains heavy metals or other toxic substances. If so, it obviously needs to treated as what it is - hazardous waste. Otherwise, land and rivers would be poisoned, wildlife would die and human health could be endangered.

The expert consensus is that dredging is sometimes an effective measure. But sometimes it can make flooding and/or the damage it does worse. This depends on a whole series of circumstances, both natural and linked to the built environment.