Guest Editorial Piece by Panagiotis Balabanis, Head of Sector Water, Circular Economy & Biobased Systems Unit, European Commission


As I prepare, from 1st June 2024, to embark on the next chapter of my life, I find myself reflecting on the incredible journey working for the European Commission’s research and innovation activities for more than 34 years.

For the last 20 years, I devoted my work in promoting EU water-related research, innovation and technological development in Europe and beyond, and I feel proud having contributed to the establishment of numerous consortia, in the emergence of various innovative solutions to solve water challenges and most importantly improve coordination and collaboration in the water sector.

Since the mid-1980s, the European Union responded to the struggle for more sustainable water systems through its research programmes. Water was not a focused area itself in the first EU FPs, like FP3 (1990-1994) and FP4 (1994-1998), but part of the wider climate change, desertification and environmental pollution activities.

In FP5 (1998-2002), water is recognised as a major socio-economic challenge facing Europe that research has to address. The FP5 Key Action Water related actions, supported the production of knowledge and technologies needed for the rational management of water resources for domestic, industry and agricultural needs.

FP6 (2002-2006) water-related actions evolved to incorporate integrated water resource management, governance and policy perspectives and climate change adaptation issues.

In 2004, the Water Supply and Sanitation Technology Platform (WSSTP), the predecessor of Water Europe, is established, as one of the European Technology Platforms promoted within the European Environment Technology Action Plan (ETAP). The overall objective is to face the global challenge of ensuring safe and secure water supply for different uses and sanitation services through the development of sustainable technologies within the framework of integrated water management of the available resources. Moreover, WSSTP aimed to promote step changes in the technological capacity of the European Water industry, with the aim of supporting and strengthening its competitiveness in the world market, and to contribute to the Millennium Development Goals.

Under FP7 (2007-2013) and Horizon 2020 (2014-2020) Framework Programmes, water research activities have been expanded with the aim of supporting the market uptake of research results, to unlock the innovation potential in the field of water management. A systemic and more comprehensive approach to water innovation is promoted, rather than single solutions, considering not only water management issues, but also water supply, wastewater management, water-related infrastructures and water- related services in the energy, agriculture and industrial sectors).

In Horizon Europe (2021-2027), the Water4All (Water Security for the Planet) Partnership has been established. And most recently PRIMA (Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Region) is becoming part of Horizon Europe partnerships panorama.

I am happy to say that with the main water related European Partnerships PRIMA and Water4All and together with the Sustainable Blue Economy Partnership and with EU Missions “Restore our ocean and waters by 2030” and “Adaptation to climate change”, we have now a very large portfolio of actions and instruments for support water related R&I. And together with Water Europe, a wide dedicated community to develop, implement and deploy those solutions on the ground and help that these solutions are successfully taken up by policy makers, water managers and water consuming economic sectors.

I am confident thar water will become a priority issue for the next European Commission to be accompanied by an ambitious research and innovation agenda.


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