Effectiveness of the EU Water Framework Directive

Water is an important natural resource that needs to be managed with utmost proficiency. Virtually all aspects of human life; domestic and industrial uses, need water for operation (Pechan, 2013). The significant role that water plays prompts the need to develop efficient management practices of the natural resource. Building effective ecological systems and balances deems it necessary to develop viable frameworks of managing water resources. Based on the imperative nature of water, the EU member states formulated a water framework in 2000 aimed at enhancing the qualitative and quantitative nature of their water bodies (Sigel & Klauer, 2008).

The directive aims at ensuring the conservation of ecological systems by enhancing the good status of European surface and ground waters by 2015 (Chalsege et al., 2011). According to the water framework directive, the European Union put measures of protecting the water environment and addressing the human activities that can affect the acquisition of “good status” for the water bodies. In essence, the directive identified water as an important natural resource that needed deliberate measures to ensure its effective preservation.

Due to the increased pollution of water bodies today, the EU sought to establish feasible ways of eradicating the problem by putting in place policies and regulations of protecting both the surface and ground water bodies (Chave, 2001).

Since its enacting, member states of the EU have continued to implement the requirements of the directive towards enhancing quality environmental standards. According to Hattermann (2010), water policies have guided the EU in adhering to the framework of securing superior qualitative and qualitative standards by 2015 (Quevauviller, 2008).

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More than a decade since its inception, the directive has undergone significant transitions and achievements. The achievements of the directive stem from the effectiveness of the implementation process through the collaborative and individual measures of the member states. However, just like any other ambitious policy framework, the EU Water Framework Directive of 2000 has faced various shortcomings that have jeopardized its implementation process. Indeed, full implementation of the directive requires collaborative efforts and a comprehensive understanding of the ecological dynamics affecting water bodies. An in-depth overview of the implementation measures and achievements so far will certainly unearth the effectiveness of the directive. Moreover, a critical analysis of the challenges facing the directive is significant in addressing its shortcomings. Undoubtedly, the EU Water framework offers a significant grounding for environmental conservation, and the need to take feasible measures of safeguarding natural resource degradation.

Effectiveness of the Directive

Over the years, the directive has had tremendous developments that have improved the quality of water in the European region. Member states of the European Union have indeed worked towards ensuring the implementation of the Water Framework Directive. Despite its complex inter-national and national regulations, collaborative actions have proved instrumental enhancing effectiveness. Implementation of the directive has fostered effectiveness in various fronts.

a) Establishment of efficient monitoring networks

The establishment of monitoring and evaluation networks among the EU member countries brought considerable success in ensuring a feasible balance of the ecosystem. By 2006, most European countries had established monitoring and evaluation programs aimed at keeping track of the implementation process (Vermaat, 2005). The programs served as success impetus for the full implementation of the water framework directive. Generally, the monitoring programs assess the ecological status of the water bodies, and guide in the enactment of the legislations brought forth in the directive. Therefore, because of efficient monitoring networks, data is becoming increasingly significant in restoring aquatic ecosystems. Moreover, implementation of monitoring programs in the European Union in respect to the directive has contributed significantly in bringing a comprehensive understanding of aquatic ecology.

Certainly, this is an imperative step in investing in an area that has for long been neglected. Through the deliberate implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive, cooperation between water managers and researchers across Europe has played a huge role in developing and gathering knowledge on environmental conservation frameworks (Feyen, 2009). Especially in ground and surface water bodies, monitoring networks have enhanced the development of biological quality components that play instrumental roles in improving water quality. Under the water framework directive, there are more than 107, 000 monitoring and evaluation stations aimed at assessing the success factors of the directive (Vermaat, 2005). According to the regulations of the EU directive, member states are expected to give reports about the implementation of the water policies in their countries. This is made possible through the articulation of feasible monitoring programs (Chalsege et al., 2011).

Since the enactment of the WFD in 2000, there has been a massive investment in aquatic community data, which is crucial in addressing the issues of aquatic ecosystems. Monitoring programs are an important pillar of the Water Framework Directive, as they point out on the areas of success and areas that need improvement in achieving its objectives.

b) Fostering a viable framework for preserving Europe’s water bodies

As asserted earlier, water is an important resource that requires deliberate efforts to safeguard it from pollutants. Comprehensive legislations in the water framework have laid significant foundations in enhancing the quality of drinking water and water for aquatic species (Sessa, 2012). Implementation of the directive is utterly responsible in the setting of standards aimed at reducing water pollution. Undoubtedly, the water policy is critical in improving the quality of both surface and ground water. Contrary to the conventional means of water protection, the EU Water Framework brought forth a new approach in water management and protection. Since its inception in 2000, the management of Europe’s water bodies has taken the dimension of ecological and biological elements (Chalsege et al., 2011). This implies that the preservation of ecosystems has become the epicenter of management decisions. The Water Framework Directive has effected the broadening of water protection scope across
Europe with immense emphasis being put on fresh waters. This is in a bid to realize the “the good ecological status” by 2015.

Setting extensive quality objectives has played an important role in enhancing the effectiveness of the directive, 14 years after its commencement. Though there have been numerous challenges in the implementation of the directive, it is worth noting that member states have endeavored to facilitate the water framework through integrated policies that enhance its efficiency. For instance, River Basin Management Plans across EU Member States have initiated flexible water policies than enable effective implementation of the directive. The River Basin Management Plans have continually promoted management of water bodies based on ecological features and structures (Baber & Bartlett, 2005). Consequently, member countries of the EU have enhanced the effectiveness of biological quality in water bodies through the application of River Basin Management. Legislations of the Water Framework Directive calls upon the EU Member States to engage the citizens in its execution; water pricing indexes and recovery of costs used in the processes is made possible through feasible water policies (Lawson, 2005). Before the EU Water Framework Directive, water policies had a superficial approach in addressing the fundamental issues affecting water bodies (Chalsege et al., 2011). In reference to this, the effectiveness of the WFD has introduced dynamic and collaborative frameworks of protecting Europe’s expansive water bodies. The directive has raised substantial awareness on the significance of protecting ground and surface water bodies from pollutants. The steps that the EU
Member States are taking in protecting coastal systems, and safeguarding aquatic ecosystems is a pertinent example of the effectiveness of the Water Framework Directive.

c) Administrative and Policy Learning Structures

Undertaking the complex process mandated by the EU’s Water Framework Directive deems it necessary for the European countries to enact relevant and feasible administrative structures aimed at accomplishing internal and external objectives. The establishment of fundamental administrative structures in the management of the directive shows the level of effectiveness in the implementation process. Moreover, policy learning is also evident in most of the member states; hence, demonstrating the urgency of the implementation process. The ability of policy implementers to diversify their structures has made it possible to enhance the effectiveness of the directive (Dimnick, 2008). Of course, each member state of the EU implements the policies under the legislations encompassed in the Water Framework Directive. The administration of the directive has continually stressed that its main objective is safeguarding Europe’s water bodies and foster the development of a robust ecosystem (Hurford, Schneider & Cowx, 2010). Therefore, the development of viable internal and across-border administration structures of implementing water policies have made the directive achieve considerable achievements.

In assessing the effectiveness of the administration structures in the Water Framework Directive, it is evidently clear that over the years, cooperation between administration bodies within and across boarders of the EU Member States has increased significantly. Research shows that there has been development of transparency in the implementation of water policies among the EU Member States (Chalsege et al., 2011). This implies that countries have expressed commitment in the realization of the objectives of the Water Framework Directive. In addition, administrative organs have also established better communication networks and indicated the need to promote the utilize joint-resources to meet the collective objectives of the directive. Since the fundamental objective of the directive is to improve the quality of Europe’s water bodies by 2015, collaborative efforts from member countries have enabled the water framework to take significant steps in improving the quality and quantity of water bodies (Chalsege et al., 2011). Thus, implementation of the directive has stimulated the development of effective policy and administration guidelines, which are instrumental in the progress of the directive. Cooperation within and across the European countries have certainly promoted the biological, physical and chemical qualities of ground and surface waters. Through the Water Framework Directive, European nations have identified water as an imperative natural resource that requires practical policy and administrative structures to safeguard.

d) Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive

As stipulated in the directive, the use of quality water is paramount to the people of Europe. The desire to achieve good water status by 2015 calls for deliberate actions from the relevant stakeholders. The need to provide quality drinking and bathing water has led urban areas in the European Union region to present directives of treating wastewater. This is in a bid to secure the waters and protect the population. Water pollution has been a major challenge in the world, with governments implementing policies of improving urban water safety. Particularly in urban centers, where there are many pollutants, it is important for the relevant authorities to put in place measures of ensuring water quality (Kampa & Hansen, 2004). Based on the expansive nature of urban centers and the environmental factors affecting them, it has become increasingly imperative to utilize wastewater treatment plants.

The Water Framework Directive is a good example of measures that governments and authorities take in urban wastewater treatment. Since the inception of the directive, urban water waste treatment has improved. By 2010, Southern and Eastern Europe had improved significantly in connecting populations with the directive (Chalsege et al., 2011). Majority of European nations have efficient connectivity to waste water treatment plants, thereby ensuring water safety (Chalsege et al., 2011). The safety of the populations is not jeopardized, since the urban centers utilize water treatment plants. The Water Framework Directive has been on the forefront in ensuring that the safety of populations is mandated. Through the WFD, European nations have implemented important policies that have improved the quality of water for domestic purposes.

Development of infrastructure has greatly improved among the European Union’s Member States because of the diversification of the urban wastewater treatment directive. This is a major achievement of the Water Framework Directive, bearing in mind that water quality is a major objective in its implementation plan. The directive puts into consideration the importance of population safety through improving water quality.

Shortcomings of the Directive

Despite the successes of the directive, it is essential to note that there have been shortcomings in its implementation process. The complexity of the directive and the much legislation involved in the implementation has consequently exposed various challenges among member states of the EU. A critical review of the shortcomings will unearth their effects to the effectiveness of the Water Framework Directive.

a) Water Pollution

Water pollution is a major shortcoming in the implementation of the directive. This problem has persisted for years, prompting the directive to put in place legislations to curb water pollution. Water pollution has continually jeopardized water quality across Europe’s water bodies (Gooch, 2006). This is not only Europe’s problem, but also a global phenomenon that needs to be addressed. Biocides, household chemicals and industrial waste are some of the pollutants that have posed challenges in the development of a healthy aquatic ecosystem (Chalsege et al., 2011). Biological quality of water bodies has been endangered by the increase of pollutants in ground and surface waters. Reports of increased deaths of aquatic animals show the extent of the challenge posed by water pollution (Vermaat, 2005). A critical analysis of this point shows that the objectives of the Water Framework
Directive in realizing “good ecological status” by 2015 face an uphill task if the necessary measures are not put to reduce the level of water pollution.

The directive to achieve good status for ground and surface waters achieving significant achievements, but the existing trends of water pollution are threatening to destroy the efforts of the directive. The load of pollutant materials has a devastating effect on the final quality of water bodies (European Union Committee, 2012).

Especially in the coastal waters, pollution has intense negative effects on the fertility patterns as well as on the aquatic life. Excessive concentration of chemicals in water bodies is hazardous to both aquatic and human life (OECD, 2012). Therefore, it is explicitly clear that water pollution is a major shortcoming to the implementation of the Water Framework Directive. European Union Member States who are party to the directive need to address the issue of water pollution comprehensively in order to combat the challenges involved. This will enable the directive to achieve its objective of improving water safety in Europe.

b) Funding for the Implementation of the Directive

Implementing the European Union directive requires adequate funding in order to achieve its objectives. Managing the demanding objectives of the directive deems it necessary for the member states to have the required resources to meet the effective criteria for implementation. Therefore, lack of adequate funding for the projects minimizes the chances of effective implementation of the directive. Without adequate funding, it is difficult for the member states to meet the requirements of the Water Framework Directive. The younger member states of the European Union in the water framework acknowledge that lack of funding is a challenge in the facilitation of the directive (Chalsege et al., 2011). Thus, it is pertinent for the European Union to ensure that adequate funding is provided for the member states. However, the water framework, according to the guidelines set acknowledges that most of the funding to facilitate the implementation of policies should come from the internal jurisdictions of the individual countries (Vermaat, 2005). This implies that the government structures of every country should make efforts in availing the required funding for the framework. This might be a challenge to some of the countries that do not have the capacity to facilitate the policies effectively. Lack of funding accessibility is a challenge that has the capacity to obstruct the achievement of the European Union’s water policy goals.

Therefore, lack of adequate finances to handle the management portfolio and effective water policy implementation presents challenges in the feasible implementation of the water framework. In reference to this, it is important for the member countries to secure enough funding for the achievement of the directive’s objectives. This calls upon the countries to prioritize water quality and the conservation of water bodies. It will certainly play a huge role in legitimizing investment in the directive.

c) Incompatibility between national politics and European Union’s water policies

It is widely acknowledged that a country’s sovereignty protects it from interference from external forces. Thus, a country is at liberty to conduct its affairs according to its objectives and political agenda. This often results into incompatibility between national priorities and external policies. In the case of the EU’s water framework policy, discrepancy between its objectives and the interests of member states is a major shortcoming in the attainment of its objectives (Bähr, 2010). In this respect, it becomes hard for the water framework to have effective results in such countries. In the wake of different political policies and interests for different European countries, it has become a challenge for some of the water policies to take effect because of the political influence in the countries (Quevauviller, 2008). For instance, incompatibilities between national politics and the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive affect the release of funds required in the attainment of the EU’s policies (Quevauviller, 2008). Lack of political support for the water framework leads to violation of the policies stipulated in the Water Framework Policy; infringements of the codes of the water policy jeopardize the collective achievement of the objectives. Some of the infringements that have been witnessed among member states are failure to treat discharges from sensitive areas to protect the quality of water and the failure to put viable mechanisms of treating wastewater in urban areas (Holder & McGillivray, 2007).

Since the water framework is meant to realize the collective agenda of safeguarding and improving the water quality of Europe’s water bodies, lack of full participation from some member states makes it difficult to achieve the desired results. A critical analysis this challenge shows that if not addressed effectively, it has the capacity of creating liabilities in the water framework, and hampering the realization of quality aquatic ecosystems as well as securing quality water for the population. Therefore, it is significant for both the national and European Union’s policies to agree in order to influence the directive positively.


Indeed, the Water Framework Directive has taken great strides in ensuring the development of quality water across Europe. More than a decade since its inception, commendable results have been realized, and this is attributed to the collaborative efforts of the member countries. The transitions that the water framework has undergone describe the magnitude of the policies and their significance in ensuring a safe and secure environment that fosters the development of quality ground and surface water bodies. Moreover, the quantity of water bodies also dictates the implementation of the water framework. The collaboration among the European Union’s Member States shows that the water framework is not an easy task. Implementing the directive calls for deliberate and sheer dedication from the member countries, without which, it is not possible for the directive to achieve its objectives.

The directive has had major achievements so far. Member countries have managed to improve biological quality within and across boarders. Aquatic life has continued to flourish with the implementation of the directive. Compared to the 20th century, Europe’s aquatic life has considerably improved with the inception of the directive in 2000. The hydromorphological quality of water bodies has also improved with member countries putting efforts to safeguard the physical structures of the water bodies. In addition, chemical wastes and other forms of pollutants have been eradicated through the directive. This has made it possible for the member countries of the European Union to improve water quality for aquatic life and humans.

However, there are challenges that have existed and continue to jeopardize the performance of the water framework. Lack of adequate funding, incompatibility between national and EU policies and water pollution are the leading shortcomings in the achievement of the water framework directive. Thus, it is significant for the relevant stakeholders to put in the required frameworks to achieve the objectives of the directive. Indeed, the future of water quality is secure, with the effective implementation of the water framework directive.


  • Baber, W. F., & Bartlett, R. V. (2005). Deliberative environmental politics: democracy and ecological rationality. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Bähr, H. (2010). The politics of means and ends policy instruments in the European Union. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate.
  • Chalsege, L., Vandrese, B., Gasper, L. and Ursach, D. (2011). European Commission – General Directorate Environment Support to Fitness Check Water Policy.
  • Chave, P. (2001). Impact of the EU water framework directive on water management: an introduction.. London: IWA.

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Effectiveness of the EU Water Framework Directive. (2018, Mar 27). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-effectiveness-eu-water-framework-directive/

Effectiveness of the EU Water Framework Directive
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