Research projects

ESR 6: The European Union as an innovator in water governance paradigms. The case of sources, patterns and effects from the Water Framework Directive

Early Stage Researcher: Nina Valin
Host institution: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Principal supervisor: Prof. Dave Huitema
Co-supervisor: Prof. Jens Newig
Non-academic co-supervisor: Global Water Partnership


The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is the major European Union piece of legislation on water governance. It reflects several paradigms on water governance, notably those of communalization (as can be read from its ambition to have high levels of public participation in water governance), Integration (a river basin approach), and commodification (polluter pays). In this ESR project, we will study the influence of such paradigms on the text of the WFD, and we will analyze the origin of such ideas, notably in terms of the academic disciplines and expert communities that developed them and propagated their inclusion in the WFD. Also, with the implementation of the WFD, the ideas embedded in it had to be implemented in very diverging contexts, and the ESR will seek to uncover the dynamics that affected their implementation in at least 5 member states, and the dynamics that occurred when the EU sought to influence the international debate on water governance through the adoption of the EU Water Initiative. Conceptually the work will connect to ongoing debates in the policy sciences, science and technology studies, and development studies. Method-wise, use will be made of a systematic review, secondary analysis, case study analysis, applying the usual research techniques. Close collaboration will be sought with DG Environment in Brussels, so that the project results can eventually feedback into current and future policy-making processes.

This research project will:

  1. Analyse the paradigms embedded in the European Water Framework Directive (WFD), including the polluter pays principle, public participation, and integration at the river basin level;
  2. Study the pedigree of particular paradigms in terms of their origin in certain academic disciplines, but also in terms of the proponents and opponents, and tease out the way these have affected the WFD;
  3. Perform an analysis of the way the paradigms embedded in the WFD have affected water governance practices in a number of Member States (at least 5) with diverging political and administrative traditions;
  4. Study the way in which the European Union, in several of its external policies (foreign policy, development policy, etc.) has sought to affect the global debate about water governance and water governance practices in partner countries;
  5. Provide reflexive feedback to DG Environment and other policy makers in Brussels regarding the role that the EU plays in water governance paradigm formation, diffusion, and implementation.

Expected results:

  1. A thorough analysis of the way in which various water governance paradigms have influenced the WFD, and why, based on systematic literature review, document analysis, and a significant number of interviews with key players in the debate;
  2. A better understanding of the political processes in which paradigms come to bear on key legislation, through the acts and strategies of proponents and opponents;
  3. Greater hands-on insight in the way the WFD is being implemented at the moment, checking specifically how certain paradigms are taken up (and probably reshaped) in Member States with diverging political and administrative traditions;
  4. Insight in the way the EU shapes (attempts to shape) the global water governance debate.

About Nina Valin

Nina Valin will be working on the research project ‘’The European Union as an innovator in water governance paradigms’’ (ESR 6), based at the Institute for Environmental Studies (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam). She has a dual background in social and natural sciences, after she specialized in both public policies at Sciences Po Paris and in environmental sciences at AgroParisTech during her master studies. Her recent experiences as an intern within the global organization Future Earth and previously as an attaché for environmental affairs at the French Embassy in Sweden also added to her strong interest for the science-policy interface. During her PhD project, she wants to address in particular the role of the interplay between experts, researchers, policy makers, and civil society on policy intervention on water systems.

LinkedIn profile: Nina Valin


Nina Valin
NEWAVE Early Stage Researcher, Ph.D. Candidate
Institute of Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Prof.  Dave Huitema
Professor of Environmental Policy, Institute for Environmental Studies,
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Prof. Jens Newig
Professor of Governance and Sustainability
Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany

GWP co-supervision
Global Water Partnership (GWP), Sweden