Participatory Methods within the EU Water Framework Directive

An Evaluation of Participatory Methods within the revision of the EU Water Framework Directive in the Barcelona Area, Catalunya

Essay, 2015

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of content

1. Introduction

2. Public participation - A Democratic Fantasma?

3. Participatory Governance in Catalonia: Right Place, Right time?

4. Article 14 of the EU Water Framework Directive

5. How are these requirements met by the Agència Catalana de l‘Aigua?

6. How do the methods applied relate to different theories of participatory methods?

7. Quality evaluation criteria for Participatory governance

8. Resumé

9. Sources

Annex 1 Stakeholders

1. Introduction

As the European Union attemps to tackle the challenges of handling an ever growing number of issues within its ever growing boundaries and simultaniously tries to regain democratic credibility and rebuild its relationship with its citizens, the concept of participatory governance has taken central stage in european policy making.

When the European Water Framework Directive was published in 2000, it called for active involvement of citizens:

Article 14

Public information and consultation

1. Member States shall encourage the active involvement of all interested parties in the implementation of this Directive [...]. Member States shall ensure that [...] they publish and make available for comments to the public

Albeit making public information and consultation obligatory, Article 14 still left it to the member states how exactly and to what extent they would involve their citizens.

In this paper I want to explore the following questions: What kind of participatory methods were employed by Catalonia during the second cycle of planification of the EU Water Framework Directive in order to involve citizens? How can we estimate the quality of these methods and how do they comply with the theory of participatory governance?

2. Public participation - A Democratic Fantasma?

Before we look at the methods employed, one should take the time to reflect more generally on public participation: Is it really happening or is it some kind of democratic fantasma? When considering the importance of participatory governance, we cannot avoid asking who is actually going to participate? How many people are actually going to get active? Will „the public“ really participate?

In his much perceived work The Logic of Collective Action, Olson stated that mobilization is not a natural or spontaneous process and that many citizens will not actively participate even if the matter in question is ot concern to them and they are given the possibility to take part in discussion and/or decision making.1

Who does actually participate in these designs of participatory governance? Critics claim that participation is often limited to well-organized, well-off members of society, the people who anyway have a lot of influence in all types of governance.2

Another criticism centers around the fact that the participants in these participatory methods are esentially organized stakeholder groups rather than the „ordinary concerned citizen“:

The rhetoric of „civil society“ tries to convince us that these reforms concern all citizens, and not just the classic „interested parties“, but [...] there is a constant hesitation between a universalistic, and a functional, conception of participation. On the one hand, the words citizens, civil society, people, general public, etc., are frequently used, but on the other, most concrete proposals concern organised groups.3

As participatory governance generally is output-oriented, meaning that its focus lies on efficiency concerning policy making, the recent discussions of democratic participatory governance often take a top-down perspective4, favouring the participation of pre-selected stakeholder groups which ideally can bring additional expertise into the policy making process. This results in the fact that the current understanding of „participation“ focuses more on effective and efficient governance than on emancipatory and communitarian ideals.5

Of course, functioning participatory governance and civil society involvement in policy making requires not only the right institutional design, but also the right „citizen material“ - citizens need to be activated, educated and motivated.

3. Participatory Governance in Catalonia: Right Place, Right time?

One might think that Catalonia is the right place at the right time for participatory governance: Due to the current political situation, the level of activation among citizens is fairly high. The catalan society is very well organized, with many citizens already belonging to some kind of organized group. The level of education is high, access to the internet is basically universal throughout the country and within significant parts of society the concern for governance issues is well-developed, as is the belief to be able to intervene in governance processes as a citizen.

This is also because Catalonia is a small country, about the size of Switzerland, which makes it overviewable, and seemingly more managable.

Yet even under such ideal conditions one cannot expect a huge turnout when it comes to participatory measures: In a participatory governance project launched by the Generalitat in 2010, the Strategy for Sustainable Development in Catalunya, the inaugural event counted representatives of almost 200 civil society organizations. This sounds like a lot, but in a country with about 5 Million voters and if one assumes that each such organization counts with about 100-200 somehow active members, this would only amount to about 0,6 % of the voting population. Of course, these 0,6% represent many more citizens, but these would classify as inactive sympatizants, the „concerned unmobilized“ of Jordan/Maloney6 or „freeriders“ as Hardin identifies them.7

So we have to bear in mind that when talking about participatory governance, „participation“ does not mean that the majority of the people in the country are actually actively involved in participating. It‘s always going to be a minority getting active, the best you can do is try to reach a high level of societal representation within the participating actors.8

4. Article 14 of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD)

As mentioned above, Article 14 of the WFD calls for public information and consultation. This was perfectly in sync with the sign of the times as identified by political science since the 1990s - the traditional hierarchical concept of the state is - in certain areas - enhanced by a more cooperative concept.9 On EU-governance level, the idea of public participation institutionalized itself with the publishing of the Whitebook of European Governance in 2001. However, it is important to note, that the Whitebook only establishes basic principles on participatory governance, it does not supply a manual for its institutional design.10 This attitude can also be observed within Article 14 of the WFD: Far from forcefully complying member states to employ certain effective methods of citizen empowerment, the article remains quite vague:

1. Member States shall encourage the active involvement of all interested parties in the implementation of this Directive, in particular in the production, review and updating of the river basin management plans. Member States shall ensure that, for each river basin district, they publish and make available for comments to the public, including users:

(a) a timetable and work programme for the production of the plan, including a statement of the consultation measures to be taken, at least three years before the beginning of the period to which the plan refers;
(b) an interim overview of the significant water management issues identified in the river basin, at least two years before the beginning of the period to which the plan refers;
(c) draft copies of the river basin management plan, at least one year before the beginning of the period to which the plan refers.

On request, access shall be given to background documents and information used for the development of the draft river basin management plan.

2. Member States shall allow at least six months to comment in writing on those documents in order to allow active involvement and consultation.

3. Paragraphs 1 and 2 shall apply equally to updated river basin management plans.

The focus is notably on citizen information rather than on citizen activation. But it is a clearly formulated objective to get the general public involved in this plan in some way. What kind of participatory methods the member states actually employ remains up to them.

Subsequently, we shall examine how the Catalan Water Agency, the administrative body responsible for carrying out the WFD in Catalonia, deals with these requirements, what methods it employs and how close these methods bring the process to a form of participatory governance which goes beyond the „Tokenism“11 of information.

5. How are the requirements for public participation met by the Agència Catalana de l‘Aigua (ACA)?

The ACA takes the necessity to inform very seriously: Their web-presence concerning the WFD is excellent: very clear, very accessible, very inviting. Detailed high-quality information is easy to obtain. Through the official website, www.gencat/aca, the ACA offers a total of four extensive documents, including one on the strategic environmental studies carried out during the revision of the plan and one on the economic and financial planning involved. The document concerning the measures taken is easily understandable, thus making the information not only available to the technocrats concerned but also to the interested public. Overall, the ACA achieves a high level of transparency.

The organization of the participatory process is also made very transparent and overviewable. By dividing the country further into 4 territorial sections, the topics become more overviewable and the involvement of actors really affected by local measures becomes more intense. The proximity thus created could boost the legitimacy and the acceptance of the measures applied.

For the sector which we are looking at, „Barcelona I“, the various lists of participants amount to 37 different organized actors overall12, featuring administrative bodies (Ajuntaments, Diputació de Barcelona), the industrial sector (for example the textile industry), peasants associations, workers unions, scientists, activists... Clearly, sufficient measures have been taken in order to ensure a large variety of diverse stakeholders.


1 c.f. Olson, M. (1965)

2 c.f. Abers, R.N. (2003) & Kersting (2008): Pgs.273f.

3 c.f. Magnette, P. (2003)

4 c.f. Friedrich, D. (2011), pg.13

5 c.f. Feindt, P.H., Newig, J. (2005): Pg.9

6 c.f. Jordan, G., Maloney, W.A. (2006)

7 c.f. Hardin, R. (1995): Pg. 50-51.

8 I will not presently enter into the discussion on how exactly one should define „civil society“, even though this would deserve to be discussed in great detail. Friedrich (2011) remarks that „[...] civil society often remains rather vaguely defined, largely referring to the space between the state and the individual.“ (Pg.15)

9 c.f. Heinrichs, H. (2005): Pg.53

10 c.f. Kohler-Koch, B. (2011): Pgs.28ff.

11 c.f. Arnstein (1969)

12 c.f. Annex 1

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Participatory Methods within the EU Water Framework Directive
An Evaluation of Participatory Methods within the revision of the EU Water Framework Directive in the Barcelona Area, Catalunya
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Environmental and Sustainability Studies
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
511 KB
European Waterframework Directive, WFD, ACA, Barcelona, Agència Catalana de l'Aigua, Participatory Methods, Participation
Quote paper
M.A. Nicholas Gudrich (Author), 2015, Participatory Methods within the EU Water Framework Directive, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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