Policy discretion, adaptation pressure and reloading implementation experiences in EU water governance: The case of the Netherlands

Marjolein M.C.J. van Eerd
Institute for Management Research, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; c.dieperink@uu.nl

Mark M.A. Wiering
Institute for Management Research, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; mailxx

Carel C. Dieperink
Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands; mailxx

ABSTRACT: European water governance is characterised by processes of interplay and interaction. Member states present and discuss their preferences and expertise in the EU policy arena and implement EU policies at the domestic level. These processes of 'uploading' and 'downloading' are regularly studied. However, a knowledge gap exists concerning the 'reloading' of implementation experiences, i.e. the renewed uploading of information on how policies actually work domestically and how possible implementation problems are solved. Certain characteristics of EU policies are expected to affect processes of reloading. In this paper we study how adaptation pressures and the levels of policy discretion affect the reloading of implementation experiences. We empirically assess reloading processes in the EU Water Framework Directive and the EU Floods Directive. It was expected that a low level of policy discretion leads to clear reloading incentives, in order to either change the policy (if fit is low and adaptation pressure is high) or maintain stability (if fit is high and adaptation pressure is low). A high degree of policy discretion, on the other hand, leads to no incentive at all for reloading. The relatively specific Water Framework Directive indeed shows cases of reloading in which implementing agents discuss their rather technical implementation experiences in order to adjust policy or to maintain the status quo in line with their interests. However, it is notable that reloading also takes place in the relatively discretionary policy process of the Floods Directive. Reloading in this case is driven by social learning, and is triggered by the idealistic aim of improving flood risk management practices instead of changing or maintaining the policy on the basis of self-interest. The paper concludes that policy discretion and adaptation pressure do influence reloading processes, but that other factors also must be taken into account.

KEYWORDS: Policy implementation, policy feedback, EU Water Framework Directive, EU Floods Directive, policy characteristics, reloading, EU water governance, EU policy process, European Union