The governance of water services in Europe
The first recital of the Water Framework Directive rightly reminds us that “water is not
a commercial product like any other but, rather, a heritage which must be protected,
defended and treated as such”.
EurEau represents water operators that are tasked with supplying drinking water
to consumers and returning treated waste water safely to the environment, while
protecting this vulnerable resource throughout the whole water cycle.
If water is a public good, it is also true that providing water services is an activity with
important technical, economic, managerial and regulatory aspects - whether carried
out by public or private operators.
Water services are essential services. They support the sustainable development of
our societies and are fundamental to realising the ambition of the EU Green Deal and
the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but little is known about them. This is because
the infrastructure is mainly underground, accessible only to a few service engineers
and also because it is sometimes situated far from urban areas and protected for
obvious security reasons. But also because water services’ organisation differs from
country to country due to history, cultural heritage and national or local traditions
which result in specific regulatory frameworks.
In order to bring clarity and to simplify the understanding of the governance of water
services in Europe, our report provides a snapshot of the current situation in the
29 EurEau member countries and illustrates the diversity of management models,
organisational structures, tasks and responsibilities of the players involved at the
different levels of governance (EU, national, regional or local).
The classification is designed around four management models:1 these have to be
seen as a simplification and generalisation of the existing models, like a compass
orientating the reader. The four management models should not be considered as
exhaustively reflecting each of the various experiences in Europe, nor should they be
used as a check list of do’s and don’ts.
Whatever the governance model chosen by a country or region, responsibilities and
information flows must be clearly defined: this proves instrumental to good governance,
which in itself is a prerequisite for sustainable and high quality water services.
We trust that this report will be helpful in providing a simple but comprehensive
overview of water governance models in Europe, especially to those decision makers
at EU and at national levels who will work on the legislative instruments to reform
water policy in the coming years.
Dr Claudia Castell-Exner
Brussels, September 2020