The greening of European water policy, experimental governance and policy learning

By Gabrielle Bouleau

Until the 1990s, European water policy had been defined by and for water users abstracting water or discharging waste through water infrastructure: urban water services, irrigated agriculture and industries discharging pollutants into rivers. The European Water Framework directive (WFD) adopted in the year 2000 departs from this sectorial stance. It regulates all continental aquatic systems in order to take into account cumulative effects of environmental degradations. This article evaluates the ecologisation of European water policy through its instruments of regulation and governance. It presents a typology of policy learning in relation to their sector-based or ecological orientation in a multilevel context. At the European level, the enactment of the WFD may be explained by mere strategic learning. Its implementation at the French level requires further elaboration and implies: (1) strategic learning in support of the sector’s equipment doctrine; (2) ecological conceptual learning; and (3) uncertainties generated by new commensuration processes. In this case, ecological mainstreaming proceeds along two avenues: recycling of previously marginal ecological tools designed within the water sector and ignorance of new tools and other actors’ strategies.

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