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The ontological fallacy of the Water Framework Directive: Implications and alternatives

Jamie Linton
Université de Limoges, Limoges, France; james.linton@unilim.fr

Tobias Krueger
IRI THESys, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany; tobias.krueger@hu-berlin.de

ABSTRACT: This paper argues that in many cases the failure to reach the implementation goals of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) is not due to a lack of political will or to implementation deficits; rather, it is due to a fundamental conceptual problem that we characterise as an ontological fallacy that is built into the directive. This ontological fallacy is founded on a radical conceptual separation of nature from human society, one which Bruno Latour identified over 25 years ago as the "modern Constitution" (Latour, 1993). We draw mainly from research in political ecology to develop this argument; in the process, we discuss some of the main features of what we call the WFD system, especially the concept of 'reference conditions' and the Driver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) framework. We build on this critical research by analysing controversies in England and France that surround efforts to attain good ecological status for water bodies under the WFD. Our paper is intended to help address what Boeuf and Fritsch (2016) identify as "a conspicuous lack of theory in WFD scholarship". We argue that unless European water policy is placed on a more realistic ontological footing, it risks losing political legitimacy as well as popular and scientific credibility.

KEYWORDS: Water Framework Directive, ontology, nature/society, reference conditions, DPSIR