Water and sustainable development top EU Commissioner`s agenda on visit to Zaragoza

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Source: European Commission, Environment DG

Expo Zaragoza 2008, 'The Biggest Water Festival on Earth', is the first stop for Danuta Hübner, European Commissioner for Regional Policy at the start of a mission focusing on water and sustainable development. Tomorrow, she will address a conference organised by ENCORE, a network for regional ministers responsible for environment policy, on the topic of water and climate change. She will mark the European Day on Water and Regional Development on Friday by opening a conference on the issue. She will also visit EU co-funded projects in the Aragon region. Speaking before her mission, Commissioner Hübner said: 'The importance of water can never be stressed enough. The European Union wants to strengthen and revitalise its economy while having a positive effect on climate change. Developing an effective strategy which promotes the efficient use of water resources could make an enormous contribution to this aim.'

Expo Zaragoza 2008 is dedicated to water and sustainable development. During the Commissioner's visit, she will see the EU pavilion, as well as the Polish, Spanish and Aragon pavilions.

At the ENCORE conference entitled 'Water and Climate Change – Sustainable Water Management and Cohesion Policy (26 June), Commissioner Hübner will speak on the need to take a holistic approach to managing water resources, saving water and using it efficiently, before opting for additional water supply measures. The event is an opportunity for politicians, scientists, world experts, NGOs and representatives from European institutions to discuss water management issues.

On 27 June, European Day on Water and Regional Development, the Commissioner will make an opening statement at a conference entitled 'Structural Funds and Water: a Driving Force for Regional Development'. The event is organised jointly by the European Parliament and the European Commission.

Regional visit to Aragon

While in the Aragon region, Commissioner Hübner will meet representatives of the regional government of Aragon, and social and economic actors of the region hosting the International Exhibition.

Under Cohesion Policy for the period 2007-2013, the Aragon region's Operational Programme will benefit from European co-financing worth €163 million from the European Regional Development Fund. More than 80% of the total investment of €326 million will be devoted to the promotion of innovation, the knowledge-based economy, the stimulation of entrepreneurship (especially small and medium enterprises) and the information society (see MEMO/08/412).

The Commissioner will have a meeting with Mr Marcelino Iglesias Mangada, President of the Regional Government of Aragon. On 26 June, she will visit Teruel where the former community initiative URBAN supported projects (€16.6 million, European Regional Development Fund) such as the renovation of city walls, new water supply infrastructure, training courses for the local police and tourist guides, integration programmes for excluded members of society, plans for detecting drug addiction, and the creation of a centre for entrepreneurs. On 27 June, she will visit Huesca where EU funds will support an URBAN project to revive the ancient historic centre, one of the region's major tourist attractions (€5.7 million from the ERDF).

A recent European Commission study showed that at EU level, water savings could be boosted by almost 40%, with about a third of these savings in public water networks, and 43% in the industrial sector and agriculture. (IP/07/1276)

The European Union is investing €350 billion in Cohesion Policy for the programming period 2007-2013. A third of this will go on environment-related programming, and €22 billion on managing water resources.

Examples of water-related projects that have or will benefit from Cohesion Policy investment:

• Improvements in water management

Proactive water saving programmes have been initiated in many European cities with good results. Zaragoza itself has been cited as an example in which projects yielding significant water savings show the importance of addressing efficiency and water saving measures before promoting new water supply infrastructures.

• Development of inland waters or coastal areas

Cohesion policy helps governments to implement cross-border or trans-national projects to conserve existing resources or to develop the economy of geographical areas dependent on a sea or a river (for example, numerous EU projects around the Danube or the Baltic Sea).

• Improvements in waste water treatment methods

A large part of environment-related investments under Cohesion Policy are used to improve sewage systems in less developed regions (particularly in new Member States and in candidate countries). Re-use of treated waste water is promoted wherever possible.

• Infrastructure for water supply

Cohesion Policy may finance desalination plants to supply water close to coastal areas. Wherever possible, renewable sources of energy are deployed.

• Dealing with natural disasters

The European Union Solidarity Fund was created in 2002 to help Member States to deal with the consequences of natural disasters such as floods, major storms and forest fires. The Commission is committed to developing a European drought observatory to improve preparations for severe droughts and reduce their impact.

European Union Pavilion at Expo: From 14 June until 14 September, the European Union Pavilion will feature displays on EU initiatives involving water through various policies: environment, agriculture, maritime policy, regional policy, research, climate protection, energy and transport. Six million visitors are expected to visit the World Exhibition over the course of the four months it is open.

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