Congress Resources: Papers, posters and presentations

< Return to abstract list

International Freshwater Cooperation In Europe - A Success Story?

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Gtz Reichert (Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany)

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 12: Transboundary river basins and shared aquifers,

I. Introduction
In spite of decades of water-related regulation, Europe's diverse hydrological environment is still under pressure, often suffering from industrial pollution and floods in water-rich areas, and droughts in water-scarce regions with intensive agriculture. Given that 60% of the territory of Europe is covered by more than 75 transboundary river basins, this is a challenge not only to the domestic water policy of European countries, but also to the cooperation between riparian states. In this respect, a promising multi-level regime is about to emerge, composed of two different legal systems: international water law on the one hand and the water law of the European Union on the other hand. Today, there are over one hundred international agreements on transboundary rivers, lakes and aquifers in Europe. Furthermore, the European Union's Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC (EUWFD) pursues the ambitious goal of achieving a "good status" of all freshwater bodies by December 2015. The key instrument of the EUWFD is the "River Basin Management Plan" which in transboubdary catchements is supposed to be developed and implemented within the framework of a river commission established under international law. Just a few months before the 2015 deadline, the presentation will cast a light on the complex interplay between international water law and the EUWFD, and ask whether this intertwined regime for the protection and management of transboundary freshwater resources is living up to its task.

II. International Water Law: Basin-wide Cooperation
As a first step, the presentation will take a brief look at characteristic features of current international water law in Europe. It will highlight the pivotal role of the 1992 UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes. Originally developed as a regional framework convention for European and Central Asian countries, the UNECE Water Convention continues to provide guidance for international cooperation based on an ecosystem-oriented drainage basin approach. The presentation will show how subsequent international water agreements - such as the 1994 Danube Convention, the 1998 Portuguese-Spanish Basin Agreement, the 1999 Rhine Convention and the 2002 Meuse Agreement - have adopted the substantive, procedural and institutional elements of the UNECE Water Convention (e.g. sustainable water management, the precautionary principle, the polluter-pays principle) and entrusted river commissions with significant tasks and competences. Most importantly, all agreements take the river basin as the managerial unit for the protection and management of the common freshwater resource.

III. EU Water Framework Directive: River Basin Management Plans
Similarly, the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC of December 2000 (EUWFD), which is legally binding to all 28 EU member states, established the key principles of integrated river basin management as the defining basis for water-related regulation in the European Union. The presentation will therefore - as a second step - analyse the main features of current EU water law relevant for transboundary freshwater resources. The EUWFD aims to achieve "good status" of all domestic and transboundary water bodies by December 2015. To this end, the EUWFD sets up a challenging regulatory program including the phasing-out of hazardous substances and controls over the abstraction of surface water and groundwater. Following a distinct drainage basin approach, the EUWFD's administrative unit is the "river basin district" (RBD). The EUWFD required EU member states to set up "River Basin Management Plans" (RBMPs) by 2009. RBMPs have to identify all actions necessary in a river basin district to realise the aims of the EUWFD. In the respect, the presentation will focus on the mechanisms for international cooperation prescribed by the EUWFD: If transboundary effects occur within a river basin district, the EU member states concerned must establish an "international RBD" and coordinate the implementation of the requirements of the EUWFD through a single "international RBMP". A river commission established under international law may be entrusted with the implementation of the EUWFD. Where a RBD extends beyond the territory of the EU, the EU member states concerned must seek appropriate coordination with the non-EU riparians in order to achieve the EUWFD objectives. Given that 55 of the current 110 river basin districts are considered international, the EUWFD's requirements for international coordination are quite a challenge. Until now, several international RBMPs have been adopted in important transboundary basins like the Danube, the Rhine, the Meuse and the Elbe within the framework of the respective international river commissions. The presentation will clarify how international RBMPs developed within international river commissions and implementing the ambitious requirements of the EUWFD function as a unique legal interface between EU water law and international water law.

IV. "Good Status" of Europe's Freshwater Resources in 2015?
Only a few months before the December 2015 deadline for achieving "good status" of freshwater resources in the EU, the presentation will - as a third step - pursue the question whether the elaborate multi-level regime for the protection and management of transboundary freshwater resources is yielding the results hoped for. To this end, a close look at the most important transboundary river basins, the characteristic features of their international conventions and the corresponding international RBMPs will be taken. It will be shown that a considerable number of European water bodies will not be in "good status" by December 2015. Against this background, the presentation will finally discuss the strengths, the deficiencies and the lacunae of the respective freshwater regimes. 1. Epiney, A. (2013) Gewässerschutz. Umweltrecht der Europäischen Union, 392-438.
2. Messerschmidt, K. (2010) Gewässerschutzrecht. Europäisches Umweltrecht, 693-734.
3. Reichert, G. (2005) Der nachhaltige Schutz grenzübergreifender Gewässer in Europa.
4. Reichert, G. (2005) The European Community's Water Framework Directive: A Regional Approach to the Protection and Management of Transboundary Water Resources? Boisson de Chazournes, L. / Salman, S. M. A. (eds.), Water Resources and International Law, 429-472.
5. Reichert, G. (2011), Transboundary Groundwater Law in Europe: A Look at an Evolving Multi-Level Regime. Water International 36(5), 686-691.

2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin