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Studying the implementation of the Water Framework Directive in Europe: a meta-analysis of 89 journal articles

Blandine Boeuf, water@leeds, University of Leeds; Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
Oliver Fritsch, water@leeds, University of Leeds; School of Geography, University of Leeds


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The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is arguably the most ambitious piece of European Union (EU) legislation in the field of water. The directive defines a general framework for integrated river basin management in Europe with a view to achieving “good water status” by 2015. Institutional novelties include, among others, water management at hydrological scales, the involvement of nonstate actors in water planning, and various economic principles, as well as a common strategy to support EU member states during the implementation of the directive. More than 15 years after the adoption of the WFD, and with the passing of an important milestone, 2015, we believe it is time for an interim assessment. This article provides a systematic review of existing scholarship on WFD implementation. We identify well-documented areas of research, describe largely unchartered territories, and suggest avenues for future studies. Methodologically, we relied on a meta-analysis. Based on a codebook of more than 35 items, we analyzed 89 journal articles reporting on the implementation of the directive in EU member states. Our review is organized around three major themes. The first is “who, when, and where”; we explore publication patterns, thereby looking into authors, timelines, and target journals. The second is “what”; we analyze the object of study in our source articles with a particular focus on case study countries, policy levels, the temporal stage of WFD implementation, and if the directive was not studied in its entirety, the aspect of the WFD that received scholarly attention. The third is “how,” i.e., theoretical and methodological choices made when studying the WFD.

Key words

EU environmental policy; meta-analysis; policy implementation; systematic review; Water Framework Directive; water governance

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087