Interview with Marie-Renée de Roubin, Water Europe Vice-President for Finance
How do you feel about your new role as the Water Europe Vice-President for Finance?
I am proud to serve in the renewed structure of Water Europe. Veolia has been a founding member of the association; the role of VP finance is a continuation of my role as a treasurer and makes me part of a very interesting network of Vice Presidents and of the executive committee. Water Europe’s financial resources and their allocations are, of course, linked to the association’s activities, hence my role is closely related to the roles of the other VPs. Being part of the ExCom is a prime position to discuss and influence the activities of Water Europe.
What are your priorities and what activities do you plan for their implementation?
To realize all its ambitions and expand its service to members, Water Europe needs additional resources. Beyond income from membership fees, Water Europe has developed many services in the past years such as conferences, support in networking, support to bringing innovations to the market. These are valuable services to members. The digitalisation of these services adds a new twist to all this by making events more easily accessible (and cheaper). However, I am looking forward to physically meeting again Water Europe’s members soon!
Did the sanitary crisis of COVID19 bring financial challenges to the water sector, and if so, how has the sector faced them?
Of course, the sanitary crisis has had a significant impact on the water sector, although more moderate than for some other sectors. Measures had to be taken to lighten the financial burden for the most fragile citizens or companies, resulting in delays or loss of financial income for water operators. Non urgent works have been postponed. But because water services are essential, our colleagues have been mobilised at all times to ensure drinking and wastewater services. Recognising the essential nature and role of these services, governments have taken measures to ensure their continuity, such as the right for staff to travel during confinement, and priority allocation of masks.
Technical adaptations were also necessary, for instance with the application of the precautionary principle to sludge hygienisation, even if this resulted in additional costs. The crisis also allowed for the development of technical innovations, e.g. the deployment of wastewater sampling campaigns which were instrumental for the epidemiological surveillance of the virus.
Do you consider that there are enough sources of funding for innovations and technologies in the water sector? Is funding the limiting factor to boost innovation?
The Green Deal, in which water is a key element, is a great opportunity to finance innovation. However, an important issue is the lack of procedures to facilitate the inclusion of innovations in tenders; they may be difficult to include if one takes into account the tight financial constraints and the understandable reluctance to risk. For example, nature-based solutions often need to be tested at scale 1, a step made difficult by the reluctance to accept risk. Without resolving this, the water sector may sometimes be doomed to transferring innovations from other domains. Let us hope for an evolution in this regard, that will help unlock the innovation potential of the sector!