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The politics of multi-scalar action in river basin management: Implementing the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2015

Frank Hüesker, Timothy Moss
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Scholars of environmental governance are increasingly intrigued by issues of scale. Efforts to institutionalise river basin management represent a pertinent exemplar, as they aspire to strengthen hydrological vis-à-vis political–administrative scales of governance. The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) is one of the most ambitious policy initiatives worldwide to reconfigure water management planning around the hydrological scale of river basins. Whilst it is widely assumed that the WFD is rescaling water governance in Europe, few empirical studies have been conducted to ascertain how far this is the case, what scalar strategies and practices are emerging and to what effect. The paper addresses these open issues with a study analysing the multi-scalar actions of water authorities, water management organisations, local authorities and interest groups involved in implementing the WFD. Itinvestigates how stakeholders are acting scalar from the local to the European scale and back to further their interests in the course of WFD implementation, focussing on the Wupper sub-basin in Germany. Drawing for conceptual insight on the human geography debate on the politics of scale and processes of rescaling, we demonstrate how all relevant stakeholders are increasingly working across scales to advance their interests but in very different ways, with different degrees of deliberation and to different effect. A typology of multi-scalar action is developed to interpret this diversity. The paper draws conclusions on how multi-scalar action is altering not only power relations between the actors but also the scalar configurations themselves.

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