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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: October 2018

Chapter I - Introduction



1. This book deals with transboundary river basin management in the European Union, primarily from the perspective of water quantity management.

2. Since the entry into force of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) in 2000, the EU has attempted to shift the governance of water resources away from the traditional administrative boundaries toward hydrological boundaries through the river basin approach. The “sister Directive” of the WFD, the 2007 Floods Directive (FD), has also adopted this approach. The focal point of the WFD and FD is the River Basin District (RBD), which is defined as “the area of land and sea constituted by one or more river basins, including their associated groundwaters and coastal waters”. This focus is a reflection of the “principle of holistic water management at catchment level”: the management of water from source to sea, including both surface waters and associated groundwaters. For transboundary waters, the Directives require Member States to designate International River Basin Districts (IRBDs). In these IRBDs, States have a duty to cooperate through joint institutional mechanisms to attain the objectives of the Directives. As the IRBD is the natural hydrological unit, it is important that there is coherence in policies and measures within this unit. Indeed, measures promulgated upstream in one jurisdiction have an impact on the state of the water system in another jurisdiction further downstream and vice versa. The river basin approach therefore entails several legal challenges and questions. How should Member States cooperate in these IRBDs and which tools should they use?

The first assumption of this book is that the EU legal framework is inadequately equipped to foster effective transboundary river basin management, as will be demonstrated by selected examples in the following paragraphs. The WFD stipulates, for IRBDs falling entirely within the EU, that Member States must ensure coordination with the aim of producing a single International River Basin Management Plan (RBMP). However, if Member States do not succeed in agreeing on such a single RBMP, they may adopt RBMPs covering at least the parts of the IRBD located on their territory. The same logic applies to the drafting of Flood Risk Management Plans (or FRMPs) for IRBDs. This means that the failure to jointly produce the RBMPs and/or FRMPs does not have any legal repercussions for the Member States concerned in terms of compliance and punitive measures.