The role of research when implementing European environmental legislation at the national level

J. Bouma

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3 Citations (Scopus)


The role of research in devising and implementing rules and regulations at both the international and national level is analysed on the basis of three contrasting policy issues, i.e., the EU habitat guideline, the EU nitrate guideline and the Dutch policy to reduce the risks of future river flooding. The required implementation of the EU habitat and nitrate guidelines at national level has been cumbersome in the Netherlands as evidenced by protesting and highly reluctant stakeholders. Both guidelines were established with relatively little input from the Dutch government, which underestimated their potential impact. Once established by EU law, stakeholders were not involved in policy preparation and this has been one reason why they experienced the guidelines as being top-down and arbitrary in character. In response to this, the government has attempted to soften the impact of the habitat guideline but the European Court has overturned such modifications three times. Seven years after establishment of the nitrate guideline, national implementation legislation on mineral bookkeeping was introduced in terms of a mineral bookkeeping system that was only indirectly related to groundwater quality, the main focus of the nitrate guideline. The bookkeeping system, together with additional measures, has been reasonably successful to cut back fertilization rates but not sufficient to satisfy EU requirements. As the bookkeeping rules were enforced, farmers and scientists jointly developed innovative systems of manure production and handling, which were not accepted, as they did not fit within the rules. Thus, the opportunity was missed to allow farmers and scientists to 'design' innovative management systems that could satisfy the groundwater quality criteria. In contrast to the above cases, a modern policy approach is being followed when dealing with the risk of future river flooding at a time when European legislation has not yet been established. Here, proactive signalling is being followed by policy preparation including intensive interaction ('joint learning') with all stakeholders. A number of options for solutions are being explored including economic, social and ecological trade-offs for each option. This can serve as a solid basis for the decisions to be made later, and to be followed by implementation. Active involvement of researchers in policy preparation and implementation but not in decision-making is seen as an attractive manner to guard the independence of science and make it more effective and visible when dealing with societal problems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-275
JournalNetherlands Journal of Agricultural Science
Issue number3/4
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • environmental legislation
  • eu regulations
  • research
  • environmental policy
  • decision making
  • participation
  • environment
  • animal manures
  • flooding
  • netherlands
  • landscape research
  • sciences

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