Three faces of the European Union Water Initiative: Promoting the Water Framework Directive or sustainable development?

Oliver Fritsch
Environmental and Conservation Sciences & Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia; oliver.fritsch@murdoch.edu.au

David Benson
Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Penryn, United Kingdom; d.i.benson@exeter.ac.uk

Camilla Adelle
Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa; camilla.adelle@up.ac.za

Audrey Massot
Environmental and Conservation Sciences, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia; aumassot13@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: The Water Framework Directive (WFD) not only recast water management practices within the European Union (EU); it also opened a new chapter for the EU’s external ambitions in the field of water. The central vehicle here is the EU Water Initiative (EUWI), a transnational, multi-actor partnership approach that was established in 2002 to support wider United Nations development goals. The EUWI is underpinned by principles such as river basin planning, resource efficiency, and participation, and the WFD serves as a legal and political template for achieving these aims in interested partner countries. This article analyses the implementation of the Initiative in all five partnerships: Africa, China, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, Latin America, and the Mediterranean; it argues that the Initiative’s origins in sustainable development related global debates led to selective interpretations of water management principles in these diverse social, political and ecological contexts. In short, these five partnerships emphasise different aspects of the three pillars of sustainable development, and their respective interpretations result in the different WFD variants outside of Europe. These patterns, we argue, not only reflect contextual differences but also strategic EU and member state foreign policy imperatives that have influenced how the WFD has been promoted globally.

KEYWORDS: Water Framework Directive, European Union Water Initiative, integrated water resources management, sustainable development