Water and Sanitation Services in Europe: Do Legal Frameworks provide for "Good Governance"?

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Publication Title

Water and Sanitation Services in Europe: Do Legal Frameworks provide for "Good Governance"?

Publication Type



Dr Mónica García Quesada, research fellow at IHP-HELP Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science, University of Dundee, Scotland, UK.

Publication Date

June 2011


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Water is life – and yet not everyone has safe and secure access to this finite resource. Over 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water and around 2.6 billion people have no access to adequate sanitation.[1] This situation is estimated to cause more than five million deaths each year from water-related diseases, mostly preventable.[2] The current global water crisis is widely considered a crisis of governance and not of scarcity: insufficiency of water, particularly for drinking water supply and sanitation, is primarily caused by inefficient management, corruption, and lack of appropriate institutions, rather than by water shortages.[3] The United Nations and other relevant institutions claim that lack of governance is one of the big obstacles to improved access to water supply and sanitation.[4] Thus, the term alludes, first, to all measures to regulate, allocate and control the quality of all water resources in a country. But, in addition, water governance refers also to the mechanisms to manage the delivery of water services - water supply and sanitation. While aware of the strong linkages between managing water resources and the provision of water services, this report exclusively deals with the governance mechanisms for delivering water as a service, and not for managing water as a resource.

The present study examines the national legal frameworks of six European countries to analyse whether, and to what extent, they provide for effective governance in water services provision. It argues that, although governance deficits have been recurrently put forward as a cause contributing to the current world water crisis, insufficient is known of what constitutes good governance practices. To overcome this limit, this research argues that the concept of governance should be best analysed by focusing on its constituent elements, which help to evaluate the functioning of the different governance mechanisms in diverse regulatory settings.

Water governance is a function of three principles: transparency, public participation and access to justice. Governance mechanisms allow water customers to be informed, to take part in the decision-making process and to have the right to an expeditious redress procedure before the judiciary or administrative authorities. Analysing water governance in water services involves the identification, in a systematic way, of the regulatory and institutional provisions that facilitate the formulation and application of these principles in different regulatory frameworks. The present study has developed an analytical approach to do so.

The subsequent chapters proceed in the following way. Chapter 1 examines the concept of water governance. It analyses the particularities of water services and the objectives and challenges of water regulation. The challenges that political authorities face to overcome the difficulties for economic regulation in this sector are examined, as well as how they have dealt with these inefficiencies. The solutions concerning the ownership of the service are analysed first, focusing in particular on public ownership and economic regulation. Subsequently, the chapter focuses on the alternatives relating to the management of the service– direct and delegated water service provision. The rationale for each solution, along with its challenges, is examined. The chapter subsequently examines the meaning of governance principles, focusing on transparency, participation and access to justice, as well as on their applicability to water sector regulation.

Chapter 2 introduces the analytical framework and the methodology of the research. The framework for analysing water governance is based on a set of 14 governance indicators on transparency, participation and access to justice that will be employed to examine water governance from a cross-national perspective. To allow for a comprehensive account of governance in water services provision in Europe, the research has chosen England, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland and Spain as country cases that represent different national responses to water sector regulation. The research assesses and compares whether existing legal frameworks of the countries support the three elements of governance.

Chapter 3 provides an overview of the European Union legislation that defines both substantial and procedural standards for policy making in all EU Member States. The content of the principal EU water directives is explained, focusing on the environmental and quality requirements that they introduce. In addition, the chapter analyses the substance of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention), which has been signed by the EU. This convention has prompted the adoption of EU legislation regulating the procedures to involve water users in environmental policymaking in all EU Member States. Together, these legal texts have created minimum standards that all EU Member States need to transpose into national legislation, and with which they have to comply.

Chapters 4 to 9 analyse water governance in six European states focusing, respectively, on England, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland and Spain. All chapters follow a similar structure. They are divided into two parts, with the first part providing a contextual analysis of the main national institutions in charge of providing water services, an overview of the main legal norms that regulate the water service sector and an analysis of the price and customer service standards setting process. The second part analyses the degree of transparency, participation and access to justice according to the indicators developed in Chapter 2.

The final chapter bring together the findings of the previous six chapters. It goes back to each of the criteria for water governance identified in chapter 2 and compares the results of the country cases of chapters 4 to 9. Lessons drawn from the research and aspects that deserve further attention in research are finally discussed.


  1. UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme, "The Millennium Development Goals and Water," http://www.UNESCO.org/water/wwap/facts_figures/mdgs.shtml.
  2. Ibid.
  3. J Plummer and T Slaymaker, "Rethinking Governance in Water Services," Overseas Development Institute, http://www.odi.org.uk/publications/working_papers/WP284.pdf. . M Solanes and A Jouravlev, "Water Governance for Development and Sustainability," United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, http://www.eclac.cl/publicaciones/xml/0/26200/lcl2556e.pdf.. World Water Assessment Programme, Water: A Shared Responsibility (the United Nations World Water Development Report 2) (Paris: UNESCO - Berghahn Books, 2006), Global Water Partnership, "Towards Water Security:A Framework for Action," (Stockholm and London: Global Water Partnership, 2000).
  4. UNDP, "Water Governance for Poverty Reduction: Key Issues and the Undp Response to Millenium Development Goals," UNDP, World Water Assessment Programme, Water: A Shared Responsibility (the United Nations World Water Development Report 2) . J Winpenny, "Financing Water for All: Report of the World Panel on Financing Water Infrastructure Chaired by Michel Camdessus," Global Water Partnership, World Water Council, and Third World Water Forum, http://www.worldwatercouncil.org/fileadmin/wwc/Library/Publications_and_reports/Cam dessusSummary.pdf, UNESCO, "Water for People Water for Life: The United Nations Improved World Water Development Report," ed. United Nations World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) (UNESCO and Berghahn Books, 2003)>. Improved governance is argued to be essential to provide for better water services, especially in the current context of population growth, increasing water demands and global climate change. The Global Water Partnership defines ‘water governance’ as ‚the range of political, social, economic and administrative systems that are in place to develop and manage water resources, and the delivery of water services, at different levels of society‛.<ref>Peter Rogers and Allan W Hall, "Effective Water Governance," in TEC Background papers n 7 (Global Water Partnership Technical Committee, 2003), 16.</li></ol></ref>

See also

Water governance

External Resources



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