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Focussing on WQS for designated areas, the approach was not addressing the problems but instead was shifting them to other environmental compartments or areas Scheuer Between and , EU water legislation began focussing on the pollution emanating from urban wastewater and agricultural run-off.

However, this approach alone was also seen as ineffective in achieving ecosystem health quality objectives Scheuer , and the Fourth EAP — initiated a sectoral approach, linking environmental degradation to strategic economic sectors Scheuer Although these EU water laws were successful for addressing specific pressures, they were looking at them in isolation European Commission b , with compliance efforts focussing on some components of the environmental system.

As a result, the standard water policy was discipline-specific England et al. Seen as incoherent Kallis and Nijkamp as well as fragmented Bone et al. For meeting the increasing demand on water, EU policy favoured resource development to expand supply through the public planning and funding of hydraulic infrastructures. Policy makers started to question the potential of water quality objectives to improve the ecological quality of water bodies.

In addition, setting universal quality objectives was seen as too limited as a frame of reference and policies based solely on water quality could not assure the achievement of restoration goals for freshwater systems in their entirety Schneiders et al. Increasingly clear was the need for integration, coordination and, for systems-level, decision-making in water management problems. New regulatory approaches were promoted, which explicitly aimed to take nationally diverse conditions into consideration Holzinger et al.

In addition, with the subsidiarity principle being a general principle of action with the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty , interventionist models were increasingly becoming politically less legitimate. The Fifth EAP set the vision for the integrated management of freshwaters. It was proposing a ' framework for MS to improve the ecological quality of all surface waters by taking measures to control pollution from point and diffuse sources, as well as other anthropogenic factors affecting water quality so as to maintain and improve the ecological quality of Community surface waters with the ultimate aim of achieving good ecological quality ' European Commission Some of its definitions capture better the ecological intentions of the WFD and help with the interpretation of some of the ambiguous terms used in the Directive 7 years later.

For example, the proposal offers a ' procedural approach allowing the elaboration of solutions tailored to the needs in individual waters ' and acknowledging the ecological variability across different regions of the Community, the ecological quality defined by qualitative terms leaving to MS the ' specifications and the adaptation to local conditions of ecological quality for individual surface waters '. The purpose of the proposal was to create the necessary framework to make MS define and implement measures to obtain good ecological quality.

In the mids, supported by the emergence of integrated watershed management International Conference on Water and Environment in Dublin, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, both in , the thrust towards river basin management gained momentum in the EU, and the need for an overall framework to manage freshwater resources was established Hooper After a widespread consultation process and a conference in May , the need to overcome fragmentary water policy and establish a single piece of framework legislation emerged Hooper In , a Communication of the European Commission on the water policy of the Community called for a Framework Directive European Commission in order to ' concentrate, rationalise and standardise, as well as improve the efficiency of European water protection legislation ' Dworak et al.

Nearly a decade since the Council identified for a first time the need for a more comprehensive water legislation in and several interim steps, the Commission finally published its proposal for a WFD COM 97 49 in February , replacing the Ecological Quality of Water proposal European Commission Through the co-decision process between the European Parliament and the European Council of Ministers that was intensive and complicated and after 2 years of intense political negotiation and compromise Kaika and Page , the WFD was finally published, coming into force on 22 December Regarded as the most significant piece of European water legislation to be produced for over 20 years, the WFD has been widely recognised as the 'constitution' of water-related legislation in the European Union aiming to deliver a revolution away from the conventional sector-based strategies towards IRBM Cao and Warford ; Solimini et al.

The introduction of the WFD followed a period of additional policies aiming for a transition to a water-efficient and water-saving EU economy Fig. WFD implementation milestones and policy developments since its adoption — The introduction of the WFD was an evolutionary policy response to water management challenges in the EU and its adoption was received with great expectations Chave The many innovations it introduced Fig. Offering a new framework for the assessment, management, protection and improvement of the quality of water resources Solheim et al.

MS were required to prevent deterioration of the quality of waters and achieve good water status by managing water resources effectively through the integrated management of the wider environmental system Bone et al. For this, the Directive introduced river basin management planning, an objective setting process allowing improvements to the water environment to be prioritised over successive planning cycles while ensuring that the needs of water users and other stakeholders are properly considered in decision-making Baaner ; Huitema et al.

Ecological status is determined in terms of the quality of the biological community, the hydro-morphological and physio-chemical characteristics, with a classification scheme providing an indication of the state of the aquatic environment and for assessing the effectiveness of the Programmes of Measures PoMs to improve its state European Communities a. This requires robust understanding of the essential components of the system and their interactions including pressure-impact and economic analysis , to take appropriate actions to reduce pressures and improve its overall state European Communities b.

Having a multidisciplinary and multi-agent approach and sharing of information Bielsa and Cazcarro , river basin management under the WFD is decentralised, participatory and inclusive of socioeconomic aspects in the integration of economic analyses of water use. The aquatic system has social and economic dimensions that must be adequately integrated in the overall decision-making process Vugteveen et al.

Environmental policy of the European Union

Facilitated by operational and technical obligations for its implementation by the MS, the process was supported with policy guidelines refined on the regional level via multi-country dialogue through the Common Implementation Strategy CIS and public participation, on top of the reporting requirements introduced by the Commission to monitor implementation progress WFD Articles 15 and The CIS was initiated in and had an informal and voluntary nature with the Strategic Co-ordination Group and the various Working Groups producing guidance documents, which were however non-binding Scott and Holder Public involvement as a means for including all different perspectives offers a way for addressing water management complexity Steyaert and Ollivier and plays a key role to the successful implementation of the Directive Preamble There is a consensus among EU water stakeholders that, despite a lot of efforts invested by the MS to implement and enforce the WFD, overall progress with implementation fell behind expectations.

Not all priority substances were monitored and the number of water bodies being monitored was very limited Brack et al. In 21 out of 27 MS, clear links between pressures and measures were missing while the gap analysis had been ineffective in 23 out of the 27 MS for the development of suitable and cost-effective PoMs. Exemptions were applied widely and often lacking adequate justifications, and in many MS, the cost-effectiveness analysis in support of the appraisal and selection of PoMs was missing for example, post socialist EU countries or had serious information gaps like Greece, Spain or certain limitations UK, Italy European Commission Another key implementation problem for most water authorities was that river basin environmental objectives were not set wide enough to integrate with other policies or in some cases were incoherent or even in conflict with other policies European Commission A summary of the implementation problems for the Member States based on the Fourth implementation report European Commission The key main failures for these related to the publication of RBMPs, the lack of information and consultation of the public on the envisaged management plans and the transposition of certain articles of the WFD into the national policy context.

A summary of the infringement cases that have been related to WFD implementation is provided in Supplementary Table S3. From the start, it was recognised that the Directive was very complex and would clearly pose many challenges Pollard and Huxham ; Quevauviller et al. While the importance of governance systems in delivering efficient water management and the effective implementation of the WFD is widely recognised, even acknowledged by the Commission European Commission e , the Directive did not address the need for the precise structures required for its implementation.

MS faced daunting technical and organisational challenges, often implementing river basin management in the context of existing water governance structures that varied greatly across the EU, taking significant time and effort to put in place appropriate government agencies Moss But the problems with the Directive had actually started even earlier on. The Directive was the outcome of intense but delicate political negotiations characterised by gradual internal shifts in the governing structures of the EU that left the European Parliament with additional negotiating power and environmental Non-Governmental Organisations with an increasing influence in the discussions Kaika and Page Including concepts that are antithetical in their orientation, for example, it sets not only high ecological ambitions but also gives options for exemptions.

Similarly, it combines detailed prescriptions and standards with generic frameworks that are related to the German and the Anglo-Saxon philosophies, respectively Santbergen From a juridical point of view, the WFD has been said to be one of the most complicated and hard to interpret pieces of EU environmental legislation Santbergen Some of its terminological vagueness and the ambiguous wording could be attributed to the subsidiarity principle, a result not only of its troubled negotiation phase but also according to some a strategic move, with objectives and exemptions undefined on purpose in order to be exploited during its implementation Boeuf et al.

Conventional practices of centralised decision-making and reductionist thinking dominated implementation efforts Liefferink et al. Authorities carrying out the monitoring were often unwilling to change from their usual practices Hering et al. This often turned implementation into a ' tick list ' of compliance against some sets of standards and a range of other discipline-specific management goals—generally without the all-important linkages to address how these different ecosystem parts interact in contrast to the aspirations of the inherently systemic WFD Everard Countries with well-established water management systems found the process challenging, let alone transitioning ones lacking such a culture Alexopoulou et al.

Lack of acceptance and inertia by stakeholders also became obstacles to the implementation European Commission Assessing the effectiveness of the WFD as a policy tool might be more complex and challenging than one might expect. And has the perceived autonomy offered by its experimental nature Wiersema ended up not being empowering but a restricting gap between law and the practice of governance?

Scott and Holder And was it because the IRBM paradigm had not been clearly defined that this flexibility did not facilitate the adoption of the systems thinking required to inform the type of participatory ecological design expected by the WFD? And if not, why its approach has been more often criticised for being vague rather seen as flexible Baaner and Josefsson ; Moss It is also clear that most implementation efforts applying the river basin approach failed to appreciate the non-linearity of the system, the interdependencies between water and other systems like food and energy production and resource extraction.

Such interdependencies have emergent properties that are multidimensional, difficult to quantify and predict Berkes and Ross ; Everard and Powell ; Pahl-wostl ; Parkes and Horwitz ; Surridge and Harris Research shows that, for a start, the IRBM paradigm means different things to different people and often depending on context. IRBM has been interpreted in multiple ways, particularly considering how it has been aligned to existing patterns of legal pluralism. From integrated water resources management as an idea in international and national fora to its translation and adoption by the WFD into national contexts and the practice of IRBM at the catchment level, the harmonised transposition of its principles during the implementation was meant to serve as the key instrument for MS to understand problems and take appropriate action to reduce pressures and improve ecological status.

However, policy discourse, translation problems, institutional bricolage and agency practices were some of the reasons, to name a few, unearthing the convergences and divergences in its various understandings and applications. It demands a fundamental shift in water resources planning and management: a shift towards managing the catchment as one system, where water quality improvements are delivered with the system improving its state.


Adaptive management requires understanding the ecosystem as a whole before efforts to manage it. This implies a focus on the bioregion especially when such a region crosses multiple administrative borders Huitema et al. Socio-hydrological systems are reflexive, adaptive, non-linear and complex and have feedback loops, emerging properties and non-predictable responses to management interventions Del Moral et al. It requires integration of disciplines, analyses and expertise, combining hydrology, hydraulics, ecology, chemistry, soil sciences, technology, engineering and economics to assess current pressures and impacts on water resources and identify measures for achieving the environmental objectives of the Directive in the most cost-effective manner European Communities b.

The WFD approach, accounting for resource efficiency, resilient ecosystems and human wellbeing, requires interdisciplinary research for the IRBM paradigm shift necessary. With the concept almost hijacked by ecologists and with a reductionist conception of nature prevailing during the implementation, what is required is true collaboration for understanding and managing the water environment as a complex system Zalewski Supported by collaborative knowledge production processes crossing the multiple boundaries between the various groups involved in river basin management, this requires engagement of scientists from different scientific backgrounds, stakeholders with different interests, policymakers from different policy sectors and politicians from different political parties Slob and Duijn The upcoming WFD review in offers the opportunity to break this paradigm by focussing on the functionality of freshwater resources and their relation to the catchment and its socio-economic aspects.

It represents a unique opportunity to allow the Directive to deliver its systemic intent. There is a need for all actors involved in the implementation of the WFD from policy-makers and catchment managers to the scientists and civil community to return to the initial aspirations of the WFD, revisit the concepts it embraced and explore ways to operationalise them in order for the WFD to reach its full potential. Unless it is recognised what the WFD aimed to deliver and what approach it adopted for this, there is a potential risk that its flexible and experimental nature could be addressed as the main source of concern, leading to an even more compliance-driven approach.

Implementing the WFD without understanding how it works, why it was introduced and reviewing it out of this context, there is a clear risk that even its core principles will be subject to several multi-interpretations and definitions, with its holistic and integrated approach observed as ambiguity. Implementing the WFD without the paradigm shift towards IRBM will not trigger the rule changes the Directive was introduced to initiate, and the actor networks of the water policy domain will remain overshadowed by governmental authorities and experts, isolated from networks of other policy domains.

Implementing the WFD simply to avoid fines or to keep things as they are using intrinsic exemption options and conditions would not enable the WFD to reach its full potential. The online version of this article National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Environmental Management. Environ Manage. Published online Jul 9. Theodoros Giakoumis and Nikolaos Voulvoulis. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Corresponding author.

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Received Nov 23; Accepted Jun Open in a separate window. The policy transition towards the WFD EU environmental policy dates back to , when in the aftermath of the first UN conference on the environment, the European Council declared the need for a community environment policy flanking economic expansion and called for an action programme. Implementation Problems and Delays There is a consensus among EU water stakeholders that, despite a lot of efforts invested by the MS to implement and enforce the WFD, overall progress with implementation fell behind expectations.

Table 1 A summary of the implementation problems for the Member States based on the Fourth implementation report European Commission What went Wrong? Discussion Assessing the effectiveness of the WFD as a policy tool might be more complex and challenging than one might expect. Electronic supplementary material Supplementary Information 76K, docx. Compliance with Ethical Standards Conflict of Interest The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

European Union - The Environment and Climate Change Law Review - Edition 3 - TLR - The Law Reviews

Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article Baaner L. Programmes of measures under the Water Framework Directive — a comparative case study. Nord Environ Law J.

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