The Evolution of European Water Policy

Towards integrated resource management at EU level
  • David Aubin
  • Frédéric Varone
Part of the Environment & Policy book series (ENPO, volume 40)


Depletion of water resources in Europe has been a continuous process for forty years. Human water uses have increased throughout the period, with no consideration for a resource that was initially imagined to be self-purifying. Observations of the consequences of anthropocentric use were conducted starting in the 1960s, made possible by the development of science. Emerging scientific knowledge in the environmental field appeared with the concept of ecosystems (Delort and Walter, 2001). Since then, the environment progressively started to enter the arenas of decision-making at all levels. A series of measures being taken in order to improve the quality of surface water, are based on the assumption that if we dilute sufficiently polluted substances, then the self-purification capacities will restore the water. This initial idea is supplemented by a prohibition/regulation of emissions of hazardous substances, e.g. heavy metals, which cannot be diluted or absorbed by the environment. Since then, environmental legislation has developed according to a process of trial and error in parallel with quality assessment methods and data collection. Assessment reports continuously demonstrate that we are failing to reach our initial objectives, despite much improvement. “In spite of the introduction of water quality objectives in the EU and the attention given to water quality in the ecological action program for the central and eastern European countries, no global improvement of the quality of water bodies has been observed since 1989/90. The European countries refer to different evolutions without any coherent geographical structure. However some improvements are observed in the most polluted water bodies since the 1970s”.1 Nowadays we observe that additional measures are necessary to halt the depletion of the water resource.2


European Union Member State Water Framework Directive Council Directive Hazardous Substance 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Aubin
    • 1
  • Frédéric Varone
    • 1
  1. 1.Université catholique de LouvainBelgium

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