A recent paper published in the Journal of Ecology and Society, by Boeuf and Fritsch from the University of Leeds in the UK, studied the implementation of the Water Framework Directive in Europe by a meta-analysis of 89 journal articles.
The authors conclude the following:
- There is a cluster of very well-researched countries, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany; however, member states that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 as well as Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece are under-represented.
- A more systematic comparison of northern and southern EU member states will help understand the role of water quality and water quantity problems in EU environmental policy implementation.
- There is a certain imbalance as to the institutional novelties promoted by the WFD. Although the involvement of nonstate actors in water management has inspired a rich literature, there is less in-depth research on river basin planning and management at ecological scales.
- Economic principles, as reflected in tools such as cost-benefit analysis, have not been studied in depth. This includes cost-effectiveness analysis, incentive tarification, adequate levels of cost recovery, and designation of heavily modified water bodies, all of them challenging in terms of knowledge, uncertainty, legitimacy, and social acceptability.
- The politics of exemptions, which often results in less stringent water quality objectives, also remains understudied.
- There is a lot of research on the preparation phase of WFD implementation, more specifically on the process of drafting the first set of river basin management plans. However, we know little about continuity and change from the preparation phase to the first cycle, and there is little comparative work over time.
- There is a conspicuous lack of theory in WFD scholarship. Authors tend to describe implementation patterns and, at times, to apply normative frameworks, but only a minority of studies refer to theory when explaining compliance with the WFD and embed observations in their social, economic, or political contexts.
- Methods and research design are patently neglected and a serious cause of concern. The authors accord little attention to methodological questions, and papers mostly have a descriptive orientation. Overall, 21 out of 89 articles are descriptive and provide no information on data and methods. Moreover, our current knowledge about the implementation of the WFD in Europe relies mainly on single case studies or small comparative studies within one country.