Case study: the water framework directive — an instrument for managing global water resources?

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) was adopted by the European Parliament on 23 October 2000 with the aim of establishing a uniform regulatory framework for water policy within the EU. The Water Framework Directive is, therefore, an instrument for managing water pollution at the European level. Implementation takes place through the acceding countries, which results in a multitude of different management approaches for implementation. However, the analysis focus is primarily based on the content and framework of the WFD and less on the later implementation by the acceding countries. For this purpose, the application of the 22 design principles is examined in the establishment of a regulatory framework, namely on the Directive WFD 2000/60/EC.

Theoretical assumption of a commoning process

If one assumes hypothetically that the first part of the commoning process took place, namely to form a community (social union, in this case, a multilateral state alliance), the second step would be to define the resource — in the concrete case of the WFD, it would be water (ground and surface water, river basins, etc.). For the regulation of the resource the European Union (EU) implemented the WFD as an institution. The WFD applies throughout Europe and controls all water bodies with the aim of improving the chemical and ecological condition. Through the multilateral agreement by the member states, one can assume that the EU treat the water bodies as a global common, although it is not named like that in the Directive. Thus the steps in the commoning process would be fulfilled from a theoretical point of view.

Summary of the analysis

The evaluation shows that the WFD has its strengths, especially in the categories of collaboration, information, transparency, and polycentricity. In the categories of fairness and safety, it is clearly below the requirements. The category adaptivity is, however, not included in the regulatory framework at all.

In the cross-section, it can be seen that the Directive has so far failed in its framework to take account of the local level of the accession countries and this is one of the most significant weaknesses in relation to the commoning process. Neither in the Directive nor the Common Implementation Strategy (CIS) — the joint implementation strategy of the WFD — could a reference be found to the local level. Consequently, the related design principles, such as collective choice arrangements or co-management are also negatively affected. Furthermore, it clearly appears, that addressing poverty and inequalities in the distribution of resources, costs, benefits, and risks is given little textual consideration, although poverty problems and conflicts with regard to water use are existent in the EU. Moreover, the issue of conflict management is also not pursued further by the WFD.

The WFD is a supranational institution and requires an implementation to the regional and local level. Due to the heterogeneity of the EU, the choice of management approaches is left to the acceding countries. In this way, they are given the flexibility to take into account their region-specific conditions. Thus the WFD does not exclude any approaches per se. However, exactly for this reason, the directive itself does not create any opportunities for collaborative management approaches. Furthermore, the regulatory framework does not provide an interrelation to the local economy, which is directly dependent on the water resources, and therefore does not create any linkage for the local community to see advantages in protecting the resources. Only in one section is an economic benefit for fisheries emphasised if the waters meet a certain quality standard: ‘Protection of water status within river basins will provide economic benefits by contributing towards the protection of fish populations.

including coastal fish populations (EC Directive 2000/60/EC 2010). Water users like agriculture, tourism and others more are not addressed. The inclusion of local resources — from a common good unit to resource pools — is addressed mainly from an ecological point of view but only partly from an economic and socio-cultural one. However, the current top-down mechanism of the WFD, that governs the entire water resource across Europe cannot mean the institutional decoupling of the local level in the regulatory framework. There is a strong link between the success of nature conservation and the co-participation of the local communities (Andrade & Rhodes 2012). In the light of the current regulatory framework, the WFD can rather be located in a ‘command and control' policy, which has to be modified under an assumed commoning process.

Furthermore, resilience as an approach and equitable distribution of risks, costs, and benefits are not addressed in the WFD. Fairness is also not a concept of the WFD. An adaptive concept approach in the regulatory framework could at least promote the cohesion between resilience and monitoring. Despite everything, when the 22 design principles were applied, the WFD achieved a 68% commoning rate. Assuming hypothetically that the implementation of the 22 design principles corresponds to a 100% commoning process, the consideration of all 22 design principles equates a ‘strong commoning’. If, however, no or only a few design principles are taken into consideration, one can speak of a ‘weak commoning’. Thus the WFD shows clear tendencies towards a rather strong commoning process.

Overall, the WFD thus achieved a considerable result. With the WFD, the EU as a multilateral alliance confers an approach to global common water on the European level. The trend towards a ‘strong commoning’ approach can be supported by the addition of complementary management approaches to the WFD framework. The analysed deficits show that a major problem is the lack of integration at the local level.

The optional approaches to improve the commoning process within the framework of the WFD are summarised as follows:

Category: Governance approach

• Adaptive governance

Category': Management approach

• Adaptive governance

Category: Complementary approaches

  • • Sustainable livelihood approach
  • • Collective action
  • • Payments for ecosystem services
  • • Social capital

The combination of the chosen governance and management approaches covers 86% of the deficit design principles.

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