Moving forward to achieve the ambitions of the European Water Framework Directive : Lessons learned from the Netherlands

Wuijts, Susanne; Van Rijswick, Helena F.M.W.; Driessen, Peter P.J.; Runhaar, Hens A.C.


The restoration and preservation of freshwater ecosystems is one of the prerequisites for a sustainable and fair future for all and therefore part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 6). However, countries worldwide are facing a challenge to achieve this ambition by 2030. This paper focuses on the legal and governance challenges faced in the European context with regard to achieving water quality ambitions, using experiences from the Netherlands as a case study. Although many EU Member States (MS) are facing a challenge to meet the ambitions set by the Water Framework Directive (WFD) in 2027, literature on effectiveness of governance approaches in terms of actual water quality improvement, seems to be scarce. Based on interviews, a survey, expert panel discussions and literature we show that in the Netherlands, an important problem is that stakeholders, also within organisations, have different views on ambitions, achievements and necessary follow-up actions. This is problematic because for realising the water quality ambitions, cross-sectoral cooperation (e.g. from agriculture and spatial development) as well as strengthened interlinkages between these related policy fields is crucial. Moreover, there is a tendency to stick to the status quo. In order to increase effectiveness, a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms for this lock-in will be necessary. This will enable the development of practical tools and instruments to support cross-sectoral and multi-level collaboration. The sectoral implementation of the WFD in the Netherlands was chosen by many other MS, resulting in similar cross-sectoral challenges as we found in the Netherlands. Insight into how other MS deal with lock-in situations is needed to develop pathways to achieving WFD ambitions.