The 1st European Forum on the Regulation of Water Services (EFRWS) held in Rome on 3 December 2019 was the first multi-stakeholder meeting of its kind in Europe, to be focused entirely on economic regulation in the drinking water and wastewater sectors. It gathered more than 50 speakers from all over Europe, representing water regulatory authorities that are also members of WAREG, the European Association of water regulators, as well as water industry associations, research institutions, think tanks and other stakeholders. Inaugurated by high representatives of the Italian Government, the European Commission, the European Investment Bank, the OECD and the World Bank, the Forum allowed to reinforce technical and institutional dialogue and highlighted the key role of Regulators in balancing customers’ needs, social affordability, industrial innovation, and efficient costs, while preserving the environment and future generations. It assessed some of the most pressing challenges for the sector in Europe, like water governance, water utility efficiency, water regulation for innovation and environmental sustainability, social affordability of tariffs, that are summarized in a final report.
Only a few days after the Forum, the European Green Deal was launched by the European Commission, addressing water as one of the pillars in the transition process towards a more sustainable and resilient European economy. Just a few weeks later the world would experience one of the deadliest pandemics ever, with devastating effects on human lives but also on national sanitary systems and economies, hence pushing EU Member States to adopt the largest economic stimulus package since the start of European integration in the 1950s. In fact, the EU Green Deal and the Recovery Plan for Europe have set new priorities that are already steering the political agendas of European Governments and that will soon boost the green and digital transitions in the European water sector.
In this scenario water regulators have emerged as fundamental institutions to ensure continuity and quality of drinking water and wastewater services under economic shocks. Their monitoring and tariff setting powers can generate relevant benefits like the recovery of efficient industrial costs, the effective realization of investments, transparency, and fairness of final prices for good qualitative services, and many others. A sound economic regulation can promote stability of legal frameworks at national, regional, and local level, respect of European environmental targets, technological innovation and universal access to drinking water, at the most reasonable prices for households and for all customers in general.
The 2nd EFRWS 2021 will be organized this year around the green transition and the actions taken by European Institutions and by national regulators to improve circular economy‐based activities in the water sector. Cutting-edge issues will be addressed like energy saving, energy production from sewage sludge, recovery of materials from wastewater, water reuse, reduction of plastic consumption. In some EU countries regulatory authorities have already developed economic incentives for utilities to offer products and services with positive environmental externalities, like the reduction of greenhouse gases. Practical experience in tariff setting shows that innovation can be promoted in direct ways, like dedicated regulatory funds and derogations to specific rules, or indirectly, for instance through output based regulatory models that define specific targets for water utilities.
The 2nd EFRWS will be organized online, on 1 day, with plenary and parallel sessions. Participation will be for free and detailed information on agenda and registration will be available on WAREG website (www.wareg.org). As President of WAREG-European water regulators, I hope for the widest participation from the public.
Andrea Guerrini ARERA’s Board Member and WAREG President.