Transforming European water governance? Participation and river basin management under the EU water framework directive in 13 member states

Nicolas W. Jager*, Edward Challies, Elisa Kochskämper, Jens Newig, David Benson, Kirsty Blackstock, Kevin Collins, Anna Ernst, Mariele Evers, Judith Feichtinger, Oliver Fritsch, Geoffrey Gooch, Wiebke Grund, Beatrice Hedelin, Nuria Hernández-Mora, Frank Hüesker, Dave Huitema, Kenneth Irvine, Andreas Klinke, Leonie LangeDelphine Loupsans, Mark Lubell, Carmen Maganda, Piotr Matczak, Marc Parés, Heli Saarikoski, Lenka Slavíková, Sonja Van Der Arend, Yorck Von Korff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

148 Citations (Scopus)


The European Union (EU) Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires EU member states to produce and implement river basin management plans, which are to be designed and updated via participatory processes that inform, consult with, and actively involve all interested stakeholders. The assumption of the European Commission is that stakeholder participation, and institutional adaptation and procedural innovation to facilitate it, are essential to the effectiveness of river basin planning and, ultimately, the environmental impact of the Directive. We analyzed official documents and the WFD literature to compare implementation of the Directive in EU member states in the initial WFD planning phase (2000-2009). Examining the development of participatory approaches to river basin management planning, we consider the extent of transformation in EU water governance over the period. Employing a mixed quantitative and qualitative approach, we map the implementation "trajectories" of 13 member states, and then provide a detailed examination of shifts in river basin planning and participation in four member states (Germany, Sweden, Poland and France) to illustrate the diversity of institutional approaches observed. We identify a general tendency towards increased, yet circumscribed, stakeholder participation in river basin management in the member states examined, alongside clear continuities in terms of their respective pre-WFD institutional and procedural arrangements. Overall, the WFD has driven a highly uneven shift to river basin-level planning among the member states, and instigated a range of efforts to institutionalize stakeholder involvement-often through the establishment of advisory groups to bring organized stakeholders into the planning process.

Original languageEnglish
Article number156
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Institutional adaptation
  • Integrated water resources management
  • Mandated participatory planning
  • Participation
  • River basin management
  • Stakeholder engagement


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