Main authors: Špela Železnikar, Matjaž Glavan, Sindre Langaas, Gerard Velthof, Susanne Wuijts, Susanne Klages, Claudia Heidecke, Marina Pintar
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Železnikar, S. et al. (2021) Evaluation report on barriers and issues in providing integrated scientific support for EU policy. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 7.1R 56 pp


A desk study was carried out as a basis for the workshop and interviews. The desk study focused on the following topics:

  1. agriculture and water in the EU,
  2. evidence-based policy making in the EU, and
  3. implementation of the Water Framework Directive.

A non-systematic review of relevant scientific literature was carried out using scientific databases such as Scopus, Web of Science, Science Direct and Google Scholar. Other information was obtained from websites of the EU and the internet.

Contents table
1. The evaluation of barriers and issues in providing integrated scientific support for EU policy
2. Evidence-based policy making
3. EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) - where water policy and water science meet
4. Ensuring water quality while developing the agriculture sector: primary policy and directives
5. Current organisational structure of scientific support system for eu policies related to water quality
6. The role of EU research for the EU policies related to quality of drinking water

1. The evaluation of barriers and issues in providing integrated scientific support for EU policy

Safe drinking water is vital for public welfare and an important driver of a healthy economy. Throughout the EU, nitrate and pesticides are currently among the major sources of drinking water pollution. High concentrations of nitrates and pesticides in groundwater with a long-term impact on groundwater quality have human (drinking water) and environmental (eutrophication of groundwater-dependent ecosystems) health consequences [44, 58]. In order to deal with this drinking water pollution, and sometimes for complementary reasons, the EU has developed an extensive set of directives, guidelines and policies over the last decades. The requirements of the Drinking Water Directive (DWD) set an overall minimum quality for drinking water within the EU. The Water Framework Directive (WFD), the Groundwater Directive (GWD), the Nitrate Directive (ND) and the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (DSUP) require Member States (MS) to protect drinking water resources against pollution in order to ensure production of safe drinking water.

One of the key points in discussions among scientists, policy-makers and actors in the last decade is the need to develop a conceptual framework for a science-policy interface related to water and especially water security, in order to enable various initiatives and knowledge to support policy [1). One of the conclusions from the European Commission report on scientific evidence for policy making is that decision makers in policy and practice typically can gain from more use of the research-based knowledge available, yet researchers should produce more knowledge that is directly or easily usable [4]. It could be argued that limitations at the science-policy interface will be overcome when its complexity and heterogeneity will be successfully integrated within policy measures [2]. Moving towards more evidenced-based policy making within the EU necessitates a better integration and collaboration (co-creation and co-design) at the science/policy interface [3]. A number of contextual, structural, and cultural factors are inhibiting better collaboration, such as a lack of opportunities to work together, inherent working methodologies used in decision making process, and missing effective communication channels between nations [4]. To properly address drinking water security, better integration of science and policy is required [5].

2. Evidence-based policy making

“Evidence-based policy” is a concept developed in the 1970s that received renewed strength in the late 1990s [6]. It promotes a rigorous analysis of policy and program options, for providing useful inputs for policy makers in their ongoing consideration of policy development and program improvement. Policies could be described as science-based programs for action that guide decision-making in service to the effective achievement of clearly designated outcomes [7]. Evidence-informed decision making processes, relying on transparent use of sound evidence and appropriate consultation processes, are seen as contributing to balanced policies and legitimate governance, however, the processing of expert knowledge is problematic and highly variable across policy making organizations. The potential for close linkage between good information and “good policy making” is routinely undermined by two important mechanisms: political and organizational, both concerned about legitimacy of policy-making processes and civic trust in decision makers [6].

The Lisbon Strategy, adopted by the EU member states in 2000, moved science into a central position for the development of a European knowledge-based economy and society and increased involvement of scientists in science policy making [16]. After that European science organisations and eminent scientists, initiated common movement which lead to the creation of the European Research Council (ERC) to support basic research of the highest quality. For the first time, the scientific community acted collectively and across disciplinary or national boundaries as a political actor for the sake of a better science policy for Europe [16]. This connection is supported by different financial instruments like the European Union's Research and Innovation funding programme (e.g. H2020) or for example with the Joint Programming Initiative Water challenges for a changing world (Water JPI), launched in 2010 for water sector.

In 2007 European Commission identified the connectivity of the European research area with European research policy and European society as an important EU challenge [8]. Besides the pursuit of scientific excellence, European research should support knowledge advancement and dissemination and underpin policies for sustainable development in fields of major public concern such as health, energy and climate change [8]. In 2008, the EU Directorate General for Research and Innovation (DG R&I) of the European Commission undertook an intensive process of in-depth interviews and surveys of European policy makers, senior advisors and knowledge transfer specialists with emphasis on scientific evidence-based policy-making and how to bridge the gap between science and policy, not as technical issue but rather as political, economic, social and cultural issue [4]. The central message was that status quo is unsatisfactory and recommendations were given: (1) DG R&I has a key role to play in ensuring that project results are disseminated across the European Commission for that it should ensure that supported project groups fully understand the importance of producing material which is useful, accessible and meaningful to policy-makers; (2) Project coordinators should be encouraged to put the policy-usefulness of their scientific research findings to the forefront of their objectives and actively include partners from the world of policy-making (European Commission) to ensure that the scope of the research, respond to defined policy-making priority areas [4].

Even after decades of intensive discussion on this topic, there are still major gaps in knowledge about what happens inside government agencies in relation to producing, assessing, and incorporating research-based evidence into their policy advice, service delivery, regulatory, and program evaluation activities [6]. It was demonstrated that decision makers’ behaviour in processing information varies across policy areas and that differences in the vocabularies, a lack of understanding of the counterpart's “modes of operation” and lack of interactions between decision makers and researchers my produce information that does not meet the needs of decision makers (forming ‘relevance gaps’) and is thus less useful, although scientifically valid and reliable [5, 9-11]. The practice of bringing research findings into the policy and practice arenas by publishing in peer reviewed journals is deeply embedded in the science system and in incentive structures. Though often relevant for practitioners, findings are rarely presented in a way that they can easily be used and applied by decision makers, who primary use governmental and internal institutional information sources [5].

Progress toward a more evidence informed policy and administrative system requires sustained investment and commitment across several focus levels—individual leaders and managers, organizational units, and cross-organizational relationships [6]. Despite advances in analytical tools and capacity for assembling performance information and scientific evidence, it has become increasingly clear that we are still far from a consensus—intellectually or politically—regarding what should count as evidence, how it should be produced and validated, and how it should be used to influence policy making [6]. Report of European Parliament and European University Institute on evidence and analysis in EU policy-making concluded that institutional systems have a tendency to resist change where one of the key problems of evidence-based policy-making is bureaucratic inertia, which limits the potential for accepting new developments and ideas [12]. They also highlighted the need for elaborating neutral assessment tools to inform evidence-based policy-making in a comprehensive way while avoiding oversimplification and distortion of reality when reducing complexity to inform politics and the wider public.

The European Union made a substantial investment in research and innovation in the past decades through its Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development, including the current programme, Horizon 2020, which started in 2014, in order to respond and provide solid scientific evidence for the numerous policies at the Union level [13]. At the same time EC DGs opens calls for tenders (service contracts) with special focus on underpinning of implementation of policies, its monitoring and evaluation. Improvements are observed as exploitation and dissemination activities are under contractual grant agreement obligations for the researchers participating in EU projects [13].

Science-policy dialogue in EU projects has many forms [13, 14, 15]:

  • policy-makers invited to meetings;
  • conferences or events organised by projects or the European Commission;
  • project participants are members of EU or national scientific advisory committees;
  • ministries or other national regulatory bodies or policy-makers are directly involved as beneficiaries in a project;
  • projects seek inputs from regulatory stakeholders through surveys and inform them regularly through policy briefs;
  • representatives from policy-making bodies participations in the (Scientific) Advisory Body of a project;
  • projects involve professional scientific societies, stakeholder associations or civil society organisations;
  • Commission assist projects to ensure and facilitate uptake of scientific results into policies trough providing responses to the Members of the European Parliament who often enquire for outcomes of projects;
  • Open access publications and data, so that stakeholders, including policy-makers can get the maximum benefit from EU-funded projects.  

3. EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) - where water policy and water science meet

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is the most important water related EU directive with respect to demand for knowledge support towards its tangible water policy and research objective to achieve good water status in an integrated and sustainable manner by 2015 [17-21]. The knowledge support is facilitated through a system of participatory River Basin Management Planning (RBMP) and implemented through water quality and ecosystem assessments, extensive monitoring and with inter- or multidisciplinary, participatory and pragmatic research [22, 23]. This Directive represents a shift in approach from the traditional unilateral focus upon sources of pollution and disturbance, to the new combined approach. The combined approach has focus upon emission limits from sources which must match with quality targets, objectives or standards for water bodies’ environment. It also requires the collaborative production of new scientific knowledge that is effectively adopted and communicated between policy-making, policy implementation, and the research base informing policy work [23, 26].

Within the WFD Common Implementation Strategy (CIS), non-binding guidance documents on sharing good practices, operational since 2001, have been recognised for presenting and communicating results of research and demonstration projects in an easily usable form to policy-makers (regional, national level) in order show ways how to integrate the latest research developments into legislation [1, 22]. Some even propose a professional agent capable of adapting knowledge for policy and who can span both epistemologies [26]. The WFD has been a major milestone in raising awareness to the need of restoring Europe's rivers, but its application during the first management cycle was limited [20, 27]. The deadline for all rivers being in good ecological state failed due to a lack of efficiency in policies and timescale of resilience for hydrosystems, especially groundwater systems [21, 28]. To tackle this problem, the WFD requires Member States to design and implement cost-effective programs of measures to achieve the ‘good status’ objective by 2027 at the latest [28, 29]. However, WFD ultimately allows for economic considerations to override objectives of attaining good ecological status when all possible programmes of measures (PoMS) have been put in place [30, 105]. Derogations can be granted for an extension of the deadline for reaching good ecological status (financial ability to meet goals). This is the case too for setting a lower target (costs of implemented measures are higher than the benefits of good ecological status) - only on the basis of scientific socio-economic analysis (cost-benefit (CBA) or cost-effective (CEA)) - as an important part of the WFD evaluation [18, 31].

Many scientists, who work in large integrated projects aiming to support policy WFD developments and implementation, highlight a large gap between science and policy [1, 5, 32, 33]. This is still perceivable amongst the results of recent studies finished after the first cycle in 2015 [14, 20, 21, 34, 35]. At least partly this is due to problems of communicating in an appropriate manner about the key research results that would be of use to policy-relevant strategies [5, 33, 36]. Research or policy communities in itself encompasses multiple smaller subsectors (e.g. surface waters, groundwater, irrigation, energy, drinking water, waste water, transport, environment protection, land use planning, tourism) grouped around separate disciplines with its own practice and language, which frustrates integration and weakens communication [18, 32, 37]. A collaborative process approach with clear coordination and transfer mechanism is needed to come to a common understanding of the societal relevance of results of the scientific work, and vice versa to validate this scientific knowledge with the local and lay knowledge of the stakeholders [3, 19, 21, 26, 32]. At the same time policy and decision-making arenas will require a willingness and confidence from one part of the water sector to engage with actors from other sectors which is essential for making progress on water challenges [14, 38].

Although WFD is well established as the key river basin management instrument across Europe, lack of cross-sectoral cooperation is still a problem. EC and member states policy institutions continually addressed this problem with goal for wider integration of conclusions from water-relevant projects into future policies [33, 35]. It is important to consider that science that can play multiple roles in policy process, can contribute to each stage of the process, and particularly to: problem identification; strategy formulation; selection of policy options; policy implementation; setting of regulatory standards; monitoring and evaluation [9, 19]. In Ireland intensive financial and personnel involvement of national policy makers demonstrated in up to 62% of the projects a high level of policy impact [20]. Results for other countries are not available.

Directives, legislation and management programmes are often implemented in a cyclical fashion and reviewed on a regular basis which provides a window of opportunity for researchers and policy-makers to draw together new evidence and approaches [21, 39]. The WFD integrated water resources management is developing through 6-years river basin management planning cycles, with possible revisions of technical requirements at the end of each cycle. This means that in principle recent scientific and technical progress in the design of the actions should be taken into account in the next river basin management plan of the WFD [27]. Similar to WFD Nitrates Directive has cycles of action programmes of four year’s duration.

The Science-Policy Interface (SPI) for water activity was launched in 2010, led by Directorate-General R&I and ONEMA (the French national agency for water and aquatic ecosystems), which provide an interactive forum to ensure a cooperative interface between water research and water policy makers, managers and stakeholders at both EU and national level [1, 5, 27, 40, 41]. Strategic use of the SPI, with specific policy milestones and effective mechanism, should facilitate the development of innovative solutions to achieve policy goals (e.g. WFD, DWD, GWD, DSUP) and create conditions necessary for transformative change towards exchange platform enabling both scientists and policy makers to discuss the corresponding research and policy agendas [1, 34]. SPI activities (i.e. WISE - Water Information System for Europe) also demonstrated that although networks/lobby organisations (IAH, EGS, IGRAC, EUREAU, Eurometaux, EEB, etc.) already exist, they need stronger involvement, if possible permanent [40]. An effective SPI requires: (1) compelling water narrative; (2) cross-sectoral collaboration; (3) co-production of knowledge; (4) experiential evidence-based learning; (5) strategic use of trusted scientists; (6) fostering networks; and (7) generating business from science-based innovation [34]. Many current water-related Research and Technology Development (RTD) projects have established operational links with practitioners as research scientists, which allow the needs of policy makers to be taken into account [20, 21, 35, 42]. SPI can be evaluated by post-processing and analysis of the links between the RTD projects results, the policy implementation tasks, guidance’s, experiences and tools [25].  

4. Ensuring water quality while developing the agriculture sector: primary policy and directives

The challenge of the Water -Agriculture Nexus is defined in the Commission Staff Working Document [103]. This acknowledges the delicate balance between agriculture and water-related objectives. To achieve these objectives, European policy is defined in different directives, like the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), the Nitrates Directive, the Pesticides Directive and the Drinking Water Directive. The Working Document ascertains that less progress has been made than expected. Not all River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) programmes are on track, because the programmes of measures (set by national regulators) are insufficient to reach the required good water status. The European Commission (EC) wants to overcome this problem by helping the member states (MS) in their quest for efficient measures. The approach focuses on (1) optimising the effectiveness of the EU water and agriculture policies, (2) reviewing possibilities for supporting investments and (3) supporting knowledge and innovation transfer.

4.1 Agriculture

Agriculture accounts for almost half of the total EU land area and is a primary source of diffuse pollution of nutrients and pesticides, significantly affecting most of the EU river basins [43, 103]. Rapid changes in farming systems in the post-war decades allowed an increase in agricultural productivity and caused considerable impacts (physical and chemical) on freshwater resources [28, 43-45]. WFD requires that directives and regulations, tackling point sources and diffuse pollution, are first implemented correctly (i.e. ND, GWD, DUSP, Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive; Industrial Emissions Directive) before other policies are used [21, 46]. Data shows that 63% of river basin districts reported, that implementation of the ND is not enough to tackle diffuse pollution to the level needed to secure WFD objectives [46]. According to the communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, diffuse pollution of nitrate significantly affects 90% of river basin districts, 50% of surface water bodies and 33% of groundwater bodies across the EU [29, 46, 104]. In spite of important progress in relation to declining mineral fertilisers' consumption, there are still many gaps in the basic measures put in place by Member States to address agricultural pressures, including a lack of measures to control phosphate and nitrates emissions outside nitrate vulnerable zones, established under the ND [46] and in and outside of the drinking water protection areas. Supplementary measures reported in agriculture are largely voluntary, including advice schemes and agri-environment measures of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), such as farm extensification and organic agriculture. Research and restoration efforts have been developed to recover ecosystem functions and services [46].

The European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) primary goal is to produce quality food at affordable prices and a decent socio-economic standard for farmers. The EU CAP is, in fifty years of existence, constantly adapting to the changing needs of society and the new challenges (i.e. environment, nature and biodiversity in rural areas) [47]. The CAP budget has decreased over time and agri-environmental payments are gaining importance in budgetary size and the proportion of participating farmers and farmland [48]. The application of agri-environmental measures (AEM) under Rural Development Programme (RDP) is compulsory at the Member State or Regional level, but optional at the farmer’s level. The agri-environment policy has ND embedded in its mandatory part (i.e. cross-compliance, codes of good practice, nitrate vulnerable zones) (Statutory Management Requirement - SMRs), which is an important building block of the wider European environmental and nature conservation policy, as it is directly connected to the WFD and the Habitats (HD) and Birds Directives (BD) [48, 106]. Although the new phase of the Rural Development Programme (RDP, 2014–2020), strongly pushes towards integration and synergy between different sector policies, the need for policy instruments specifically targeted to pursue the objectives of preservation of water quality and quantity still remains [43, 49]. However, the institutional arrangements for the agriculture and water sectors are complex and multi-dimensional, and integration requires collaborative approach to science, policy and governance [50, 51].

Understanding and mitigating diffuse pollution from agriculture continues to pose demanding challenges [50]. Some AEMs are already accepted as standard farm practice and widely adopted whilst others are implemented less widely [52]. Science and policy from agricultural and environmental sector need to embrace that development of agricultural environmental regulation that could achieve meaningful improvements in freshwater resources is difficult, as farmers are often sceptic of conflicting policy, science and public media messages, unaware of existing regulation or simply choose not to comply with regulation [53, 54]. When farmers accept their role in preventing water diffuse pollution, they are often faced with several barriers related to costs of application and impacts on revenue, to bureaucracy or a lack of guidance on how effectively apply measures [21]. With this kind of attitude, the impact of polices is questionable. Impacts of production support payments and rural development payments on the quality of groundwater have rarely been estimated [47]. In the case of direct payments in Slovenia, coupled subsidies and investment grants (2004-2014) raised the pesticide concentration in groundwater, but did not have any statistically significant impact on the concentration of nitrates in groundwater. Agri-environmental payments did not have any statistically significant impact on nitrate concentration decrease in groundwater, but were effective in reducing pesticides in groundwater, although only to a limited extent. These results imply a problem of insufficient targeting of agri-environmental measures policy acts and suggest that greening of direct payments, a major innovation brought in under the 2013 CAP reform, is a way toward higher impact of CAP on water quality improvements (diversifying crops, maintaining permanent grassland, dedicating 5% of arable land to 'ecologically beneficial elements', 'ecological focus areas') [47]. For better results of agri-environmental payments, it is important that science, policy and management address the farmers as members of a heterogeneous group and agriculture as a heterogeneous activity which may involve many different practices. In addition, it should try to communicate measures with each particular stakeholder group also with the help of advisory services for farmers [21, 43, 52, 53].

4.2 Nitrate Directive

Groundwater constitutes the largest reservoir of freshwater in the world, accounting for over 97% of all freshwaters available on earth (excluding glaciers and ice caps). Focus on groundwater mainly concerns its use as drinking water, as about 75% of EU inhabitants depend on groundwater for their water supply [55]. Implementation of the ND decreased nutrient surpluses and improved groundwater quality by 16% in 2008 [56]. However, there is more than 30% of groundwater bodies in Europe considered to be at risk of not achieving the ND targets and 45% are in doubt of doing so in near future [29]. Reasons could be in the fact that Member States have the opportunity to apply for derogation within ND (i.e. manure application rate higher than 170 kg N per ha under certain conditions) or in interpretation of nitrogen application limit (i.e. adding gaseous losses of nitrogen ‘on top’ to the general limit) [57]. It is expected that the ND will result in a further decrease in N emissions in EU, because the implementation of the measures is expected to become stricter. However, the nitrate target of 50 mg/l is still exceeded in shallow and sandy groundwater’s with intensive agriculture [59].

One of the possible solutions is, that Member States design and implement new cost-effective programs of measures under Agri-Environmental Schemes (AES) to achieve ND objective, or WFD ‘good status’ objectives (chemical and ecological) for the affected water bodies by 2027 at the latest. With policies currently in place, the general protection goals of the Directives will not be met, thus achieving ‘good status’ would demand a substantial change in the design of AEMs, involving costs that may not be offset by benefits [28, 29]. For the selection of appropriate measures, models are useful for quantifying the expected impacts and the associated costs [60]. However, models show that new policy approaches are required, as for some water bodies (high productive agricultural areas) the Directives time frames within improvements are expected could be much longer [29, 59].

Several EU member states recognised that losses of N from agriculture reduced significantly, especially in nitrate vulnerable zones, but further reductions are required to comply with the EU WFD [59, 61-64]. As further general reduction in nutrients may affect farm economics a change of paradigm is therefore planned, with severe restrictions placed on applications to land vulnerable to nitrate leaching to the aquatic environment and a potential easing of restrictions in other areas [63]. The lesson is that general policy regulation can be usefully applied to control widespread excessive applications of N but that once this has been achieved, and if further reductions are necessary, a switch to more spatially or type of farming targeted measures is required [63]. Introduction of AEMs to policy can be fraught with difficulty in the form of delays and legal proceedings when the legal and regulatory complexity of adopting AEM at the national level to achieve site-specific environmental objectives is underestimated in a top-down political process [45]. On the other hand there is a growing acceptance among farmers of environmental benefits occurring from the regulation but scepticism remains around the validity of certain measures, especially if their observations are not supported by scientific evidences [65].

A combination of targeted mandatory and voluntary measures might be a suitable way forward, where a failure of achieving the site-specific targets in the voluntary scheme (the carrot), will lead to imposition of targeted mandatory requirements (the stick), however good scientific grounds and policy backup will be required in the process [45]. For the design of agro-environmental policies, appropriate and user-friendly tools are needed which should help water managers to evaluate the potential impacts of mitigation measures on water resources, more clearly define protected areas, and more efficiently distribute financial incentives to farmers who agree to implement alternative practices ([28]). At the end, science and policy should cooperate in checking efficiency of AEMs with delivery/impact metrics and appropriate standards for identifying trajectories associated with diffuse pollution transfer and ensuring that agri-environmental policies are given a fair and thorough evaluation and modification in the next management cycle [61].

4.3 Pesticides

The Plant Protection Products Regulation (PPPR) and the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (DSUP) are essential elements of the Thematic Strategy on Pesticides of the EU. EU policy is directed towards significant reductions in pesticide use in the medium to long term [66, 67]. A main new element of the PPPR is, that it provides the possibility to reject active substances on the basis of their intrinsic properties (including endocrine disruption) [68-70]. These regulations introduced a shift from risk to hazard assessment and are characterised by a peculiar combination of five principles for risk assessment and management: hazard identification, precaution, substitution, sustainability and mutual recognition [71, 72]. The challenge for regulating authorities is to ensure that any losses of active substances and/or products are only due to safety reasons and are not just because one product appears to be less safe than another, for that solid scientific knowledge grounds are needed [68, 73]. If additional science based concerns about public health and economic costs associated with removing pesticides from water are raised, the WFD and DWD directives have the potential to restrict pesticide use in short term [67].

Article 7 (‘Waters used for the abstraction of drinking water’) of the EU WFD promotes a prevention-led approach to European Drinking Water Directive (DWD) compliance for those parameters, that derive from anthropogenic influences on raw water quality [74]. In Europe, drinking water is produced, to standards defined in the DWD, using water abstracted from the environment, for that treatment to remove pollution and strategies to prevent pollution are used [74]. Agronomists can in general predict that the reduction of one active substance will lead to the increased use of others, creating a risk of pollution swapping. Therefore, water companies face considerable uncertainty when planning for pesticide management in the potable water supply [75]. To support the prevention-led approach to DWD compliance required by WFD Article 7, water suppliers and policy makers need to work closely with scientists to chart early pollution warning strategies as well as control strategies for the major weed, disease and pest problems [75].

EU stricter legislation on regulatory regime governing the registration of active substances and plant protection has led, for many common pesticides widely used, to a removal from market, but unexpected and unacceptable risks emerged, threatened environmental quality and human health [67, 69, 73, 76]. Pesticides producers argue, that cost of developing new and maintaining existing active substances is becoming prohibitive, as is expected to lead to increased costs of production, decreased yields and increased risk of pesticide resistance in target pest populations [66, 76]. Another optional policy for pesticide use reduction includes tax schemes that are based on standards for environmental and health quality to promote low-input cropping practices [77, 78]. It is estimated that taxation systems could decrease pesticide inputs up to 25%, while higher reduction in use (up to 50% decrease) are not expected to have a larger effect, as farmers would become less responsive to input price after low-input practices adoption [78]. As pesticides affect human beings and other organisms differently and have various environmental effects across countries, climatic conditions and species varieties, a classification according to toxic contents will be needed [77].

Development of efficient biocontrol agents (BCA) is inspiring because of their acknowledgement by consumers and civil society as well as opportunity to fulfil the requirements of conventional crop production, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and the organic sector [69]. The BCA matrix includes micro- and macroorganisms as well as natural substances of mineral, animal and vegetal origin. As biotic plant strengtheners are ruled by PPPR, the basic substance category could allow a reduction of timeframe, costs and resources affected to phytopharmaceutical applications, together with an internal management opportunity [69].

Enforcement of the pesticide legislation shows, that delays in assessments and national derogations to EU decisions mitigate the radical character of the reformed regulatory regime [79]. Due to delays in monitoring activities, it is difficult to evaluate policy outcomes on the ground. Science and EU policy are affected by divisions among Member States in comitology and the deficiencies in risk communication activities [79]. A clear example is the discussion about Glyphosate, the most frequently used herbicide in the EU and possible mutagen and endocrine disruptor. While EU civil initiative, part of the Member States and part of the science community support the ban of Glyphosate, the other part support renewal of approval for Glyphosate use in the next five to years [80]. EU member states agreed on November 27th 2017 on a five-year renewal period.

5. Current organisational structure of scientific support system for eu policies related to water quality

The organizational structure of the European Commission of scientific support consists of several levels. The highest is the Directorate General, which operates in 31 different departments. The Directorate General is closely connected with the Joint Research Centre and its 10 science work areas. Aiming at bringing together all relevant actors at EU, national and regional levels, the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) works with five challenge driven partnerships, formed under the EU2020 Innovation. The partnerships are supported with steering groups, who create different task forces and work platforms [90, 89, 91, 84, 85, 92-94, 101, 103, 104, 107].

5.1 Directorate General (DG)

DG is a branch of administration dedicated to a specific field of expertise. Based in Brussels, managed by Director General and the political authority of the Commissioner, it has 31 different departments/areas of work. Four of the departments are closely related to the topic of FAIRWAY project: Agriculture and Rural Development, Environment, and Research and Innovation.

Table 1: EU Directorates related to the FAIRWAY project topic

Directorate: Role: Aim:
Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG-AGRI) Deals with all aspects of the common agricultural policy (CAP). Responsible for EU policy on agriculture and rural development.
Directorate General for Environment (DG ENVI) Protects, preserves and improve the environment for present and future generations, proposing and implementing policies, that ensure a high level of environmental protection and preserve the quality of life of EU. Responsible for EU policy on environment.
Directorate General for Research and Innovation (DG R&I) To improve Europe's competitiveness, boost its growth, create jobs, and address the main current and future societal challenges. Defines and implements European Research and Innovation policy with a view to achieving the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy, its work is guided by the 7th Environment Action Programme, the Circular Economy Action Plan and, more recently, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Directorate General for Health and Food Safety To make Europe a healthier, safer place, where citizens can be confident that their interests are protected. To protect and improve public health; ensure Europe's food is safe and wholesome; protect the health and welfare of farm animals; protect the health of crops and forests.

Each of the three DGs uses different service contracts to buy services such as conference and publicity services, studies, technical assistance and training, consultancy, etc. The providers are selected via calls for tender. The Joint Research Centre is described separately below.

5.2 Joint Research Centre (JRC)

Role: to address key societal challenges, while stimulating innovation and developing new methods, standards and tools.

Aim: to support European Union policies with independent evidence thorough the whole policy cycle.

Structural organization: The centre is spread over six sites (Brussels, Geel, Ispra, Karlsruhe, Petten and Seville) in five different European Union countries. It is under the responsibility of the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport. JRC is led by Director General and a board of Governors, which assist and advise.

Actors involved: JRC employs 3000 people all over the European Union (scientists, seconded national experts, trainees). The majority of them work on scientific projects, rest on administration and support activities.

Areas of work: 10 science areas: Agriculture and food security; Corporate; Economic and monetary Union; Energy and transport; Environment and climate change; Health and consumer protection; Information Society; Innovation and growth; Nuclear safety and security; Safety and security; Standards.

5.3 European Innovation Partnership (EIP)

Role: To bring together all relevant actors at EU, national and regional levels. It`s main roles are: (i) steps up research and development efforts; (ii) coordinates investments in demonstration and pilots; (iii) anticipate and fast-tracks any necessary regulation and standards; and (iv) mobilises ‘demand’, in particular through better coordinated public procurement, to ensure that any breakthroughs are quickly brought to market.

Aim: to design and implement the main roles in parallel to cut lead times. EIP are formed as new strategic orientations of the European Union. They act as tools to support “interactive networking” of various stakeholders for the formation and transfer of knowledge from research to specific fields of interest. Moreover, in EIP researchers, advisers, entrepreneurs and other actors should work together in solving individual development issues.

Structural organization: there are five challenge-driven partnership, formed under the EU2020 Innovation Union; (i) Active and Healthy ageing; (ii) Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability; (iii) Smart cities and Communities; (iv) Water and (v) Raw materials. They are launched in areas and consist only of activities, in which government intervention is clearly justified and where combining EU, national and regional efforts with aim to achieve the target quicker and more efficiently.

5.4 The European Innovation Partnership on agricultural productivity and sustainability (EIP-AGRI)

Role: To helps the agricultural and forestry sectors to become more sustainable, productive and capable of tackling current challenges such as climate change, stricter environmental rules, more volatile market prices and fiercer competition.

Aim: focuses on forming partnerships and linking people in the EIP-AGRI network.

Structural organization: EIP-AGRI network comprises of people from different professional backgrounds, organised in different types of activities, such as Operational Groups (groups at local level) and EIP-AGRI Focus Groups. A steering board leads the EIP-AGRI by providing strategic orientations for its implementation. A Standing Committee for Agricultural Research, composed of representatives from Member States and Candidate and Associated Countries, is coordinating agricultural research across the European Research Area.

Actors involved: Multi-stakeholder groups of representatives with relevant knowledge within innovation and agriculture -researchers, agribusinesses advisers, farmers, NGOs and other stakeholders.

Areas of work: Different areas of the agricultural sector network, such as Agroforestry, Genetic resources, Organic Farming, Protein crops, Circular horticulture, High Nature Value, etc.

5.5 The European Innovation Partnership on Water (EIP-WATER)

Role: The partnership facilitates the development of innovative solutions to address major European and global water challenges.

Aim: to remove barriers by advancing and leveraging existing solutions. Promotes and initiates collaborative processes for change and innovation in the water sector across the public and private sector, non-governmental organizations and the general public.

Structural organization: led by a Steering Group consisting of high-level spanning both the demand and supply sides of the water sector. The Steering Group and EIP Water are supported by a Task Force.

Actors involved: Multi-stakeholder groups of representatives with relevant knowledge.

Areas of work: Eight priority areas that centre on challenges and opportunities in the water sector (water policy, planning and management, water utilities, water users, as well as the development of water-related solutions. Five thematic priorities have been selected: (i) Water reuse and recycling; (ii) Water and wastewater treatment, including recovery of resources; (iii) Water-energy nexus; (iv) Flood and drought risk management; (v) Ecosystem services.  

5.6 European Environment Agency (EEA)

Role: to provide independent and sound information on the environment.

Aim: it works as an information source for those involved in developing, adopting, implementing and evaluating environmental policy, and also the general public. It helps the European Community, member states and cooperating countries to make decisions, informing about improving the environment, integrating environmental considerations into economic policies and moving towards sustainability.

Structural organization: established in 1993 by the European Union together with the European environment information and observation network (Eionet). The EEA management board and the Executive Director are assisted by the scientific committee in providing scientific advice and delivering professional opinion on any scientific matter in the areas of work undertaken by the Agency. The committee is composed of scientists from the EEA member-countries, covering a variety of environmental fields.

Actors involved: 33 member countries and six cooperating countries. The EEA works together with national focal points, typically national environment agencies or environment ministries. They are responsible for coordinating national networks involving many institutions.

Areas of work: all environment areas.

5.7 European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET)

Role: supporting the collection and organisation of data and the development and dissemination of information of the EEA.

Aim: to provide timely and quality-assured data, information and expertise for assessing the state of the environment in Europe and the pressures and driving forces acting upon it.

Structural organization: a partnership network of the EEA and its member and cooperating countries.

Actors involved: It consists of the EEA, six European Topic Centres (ETCs) and a network of around 1000 experts from 39 countries in up to 400 national bodies dealing with environmental information.

Areas of work: EIONET forms the basis of integrated environmental assessments and knowledge that is disseminated and made accessible through the EEA website. This information serves to support public participation at national, European and global level, environmental management processes and environmental policy making and assessment.

5.8 European Research Council (ERC)

Role: complementing funding activities in Europe such as those of the national research funding agencies. It is a flagship component of the European Union's Research Framework Programme for 2014 to 2020 and Horizon 2020.

Aim: to encourage the research in Europe, through competitive funding and to support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields.

Structural organization: it is a 'bottom-up', 'investigator-driven' research centre.

Actors involved: different researchers

Areas of work: ERC grants are awarded through open competition to projects in Europe. The sole criterion for selection is scientific excellence, the ERC expects that its grants will help to bring about new and unpredictable scientific and technological discoveries.

5.9 Research Executive Agency (REA)

Role: is a funding body for research and innovation. It manages EU research grants.

Aim: The Agency operates in a political framework created by the European Commission. It manages research proposals and funded projects under its portfolio and provides services to all activities funded under Horizon 2020.

Structural organization: is an autonomous body with its own legal entity. It is managed by a senior official seconded from the Commission, the Director, and by a governing board composed of parent DGs' representatives, the Steering Committee.

Areas of work: REA supports the DGs of the European Commission, which are in charge of all policy aspects of their respective research actions. IT manages the legacy of the FP7 actions from the previous mandate (SME actions, Marie Curie actions); manages a large share of the Horizon 2020 actions and provides services (expert management; validation services; logistical support for project evaluations and management of the Research Enquiry Service).


Role: the statistical office of the European Union.

Aim: to provide high quality statistics for Europe. The key task is to provide the European Union with statistics at European level, which enable comparisons between countries and regions.

Structural organization: is one of the Directorates-General of the European Commission, headed by a Director General and a Deputy Director General.

Actors involved: staff consists of more than 800 people, among them officials and temporary agents represent, contract agents and seconded national experts represent, trainees, employment agency staff and external service providers.

Areas of work: Eurostat is the statistical authority of the European Union. Eurostat co-ordinates statistical activities at Union level and more particularly inside the Commission.  

5.11 Water Supply and Sanitation Technology Platform (WssTP)

Role: Fosters collaborative, innovative and integrated European Research and Technologies Development, provides global answers to global challenges for the next generations, addresses the challenges of an integrated and sustainable management of water resources and ensure the European growth and competitiveness of the water sector.

Aim: to make, by 2030, the European water sector a leading centre of expertise for providing safe, clean and affordable water services while protecting nature. WssTP represents a key mechanism to further coordinate pilot projects, demonstration and research in the water sector.

Structural organization: The Board of Directors is the decision making body, which implements the strategy of the platform, decided on by the General Assembly.

Actors involved: Working Groups that have different formats comparable with the current Task Forces. Representatives from different working groups compose the Steering Group that oversees all the work. WssTP consists of 178 members and a network of more than 700 individuals from research, technology providers, industry, policy makers and water users.

Areas of work: 16 working groups, such as Water and agri-food, Eco-system services, Green Infrastructure, Urban water pollution, etc.

6. The role of EU research for the EU policies related to quality of drinking water

In order to protect the quality of drinking water, the European Union along with it scientific support services, has developed an extensive set of directives, policies, guidelines, research projects, websites and literature.

The most important are the following directives that act on the quality of drinking water: Water Framework Directive, complemented by Drinking Water Directive, Ground Water Directive, Nitrates Directive and Directive on Sustainable Use of Pesticides.

Under the WFD, there are currently 34 guidance documents and technical reports in use, prepared by research bodies involved in the WFD. They are intended to provide overall methodology approach and to assist stakeholders in the implementation phase of the WFD [99]. Moreover, an internet-based platform called "CIRCABC" (Communication and Information Resource Centre for Administrations, Businesses and Citizens) is set up by the European Commission. It is used to create collaborative workspaces, where different stakeholders can work together and share information and resources.

The DWD has a three year cycle to be reported to the European Commission. The Commission assesses the results of water quality monitoring against the standards in the DWD with the help of research. After each reporting cycle, a synthesis report is produced, which summarizes the quality of drinking water and its improvement at European level. A Synthesis Report on the Quality of Drinking Water was adopted on 20 October 2016, examining the Member States' reports for the 2011-2013 period [87].

Within the GWD, a technical Working Group with different actors involved (researchers, agency representatives on Groundwater) was established. The group exchanges information and experience on groundwater issues related to the WFD (e.g. risk assessment, monitoring, chemical status, characterization of trends and programs of measures, etc.). Its aim is to implement the GWD and the groundwater elements of the WFD, in particular the monitoring and preparation of the first River Basin Management Plans [99, 88]. Working group members share information via different means, such as guidance documents, technical reports and workshops in which they gather participants’ experience. There are currently five guidance documents and nine technical reports published, contributing to the implementation of EU water legislation [88].

The ND has a four year cycle, to be reported to the European Commission on the implementation of the Directive. DG Env also commissions studies on different aspects of the ND, in order to assist Member States in implementing the Directive, to extend scientific knowledge on best farming practices for protection of water quality and minimization of nitrogen losses from agriculture [96].

The DSUP, particularly in the form of compliance with the principles of integrated pest management, was excluded by the Commission from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Unfortunately, very few Member States are taking its implementation seriously. In order to assist the implementation of DSUP, a Pesticides Action Network Europe, including different actors (researchers), was established. Its main role is to ensure that farmers start applying integrated pest management, that Member States engage and as a result that the DSUP becomes fully integrated into the CAP [97].

Created in 1962, CAP is one of the oldest polices of the European Union. Its main objectivities are to provide a stable, sustainably produced supply of safe food at affordable prices for Europeans and ensuring a decent standard of living for farmers and agricultural workers. The CAP contribution of the political priorities it’s significant towards the delivery of the DG Agri objectives. The CAP implementation is assisted with instrument for pre-accession assistance in Rural Development. Following input from various stakeholders and scientific assessment, the DG initiates proposals for adoption by the Commission and consideration by the Council and the European Parliament. Once adopted, the DG works with Member States to ensure that the legislation is transposed and applied across the EU effectively, moreover DG also regularly evaluates the legislation and policies to ensure they are fit for purpose [96, 97].

As seen from the DG Agri annual report (2016), DG Agri acts through different types of interventions: (i) policy and economic analysis, evaluation and impact assessments of the overall policy conception and formulation of the CAP; (ii) contribution to the Instrument for pre-accession assistance for the part related to rural development; (iii) contribution to the negotiation of international agreements in areas of agricultural policy (food security, trade in agricultural products, quality policy, etc.); (iv) contributes to the implementation of such international agreements and manages the relations with third countries related to agriculture; (v) preparation of legislative proposals and negotiates them with other institutions and monitors their implementation to ensure a harmonized application [81]. Currently there are different service contracts for DG Agri, available through calls for tender. There are currently ongoing different evaluation studies of CAP (see example) and different pilot projects [105].

DG Environment represents the EU at a wide-range of environmental meetings in international fora such as the United Nations, in multilateral environmental agreements and in other international fora when environment-related matters are discussed. The DG Environment makes funding available through two different programmes (LIFE fund and the Eco-Innovation and Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme) and trough operating grants to environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) [106].

All three programmes are financed through grants. The Commission also organises procurement tenders see examples). DG Envi sub-program for Environment finances scientific projects dedicated to promoting environmental protection, resource efficiency, nature and biodiversity conservation as well as governance and information in these priority areas within the EU [82].

The DG R&I contributes particularly to the Commission's priorities for Growth, Jobs and Investment, the Energy Union, the Digital Single Market and the EU as a global actor. This includes working with the Member States to improve the level and quality of public investment in research and innovation, through the European Semester, the Policy Support Facility and the development of the European Research Area. Thirteen Research and Innovation policy-related, country specific recommendations were issued in 2016, highlighting the need to boost innovation, enhance productivity and private investment, strengthen governance for research and innovation, etc. [83].

European policy for research and technological development (RTD) is also an important area of European legislation. It has been extended in the early 1980s with the establishment of a European framework programme for research. EU research funding has been now grouped into Horizon 2020 and the 8th EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation covering the period 2014-2020 [98].

In 2002 The European Research Area Net (ERA-NET) was launched, to support the coordination and collaboration of national and regional research programmes. It sets up the coordination of programmes carried in the Member States and associated countries through networking and implementation of joint activities.

Horizon 2020 covers the operational costs for European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) designed to help to coordinate nationally funded research at European level. Furthermore, Horizon 2020 also coordinates its activities with the intergovernmental EUREKA initiative to promote international, market-oriented research and innovation. This helps research organisations and industries introducing new processes, services and products to market [98].

The European Commission is monitoring the implementation of EU legislation in the EU Member States, through reporting and monitoring. Based on their own internal monitoring, the EU Member States, are submitting information and data to the European Commission, which then analyses these national reports and presents its findings in various ways (implementation reports, indicators and scoreboards, other publications). The European Commission is often working in collaboration with Eurostat, the Joint Research Centre or other agencies depending on the legislation concerned. Environmental monitoring usually leads to data collection and reporting (Figure 1). It starts with the collection of individual data sets on a local scale and continues with the first level of spatial aggregation, on the regional scale. Second is the national level of spatial aggregation that reports to the third level, the European Union level. The data collected on this level is transmitted through different EEA and European Commission reports to the European Parliament or Council and the different international organizations, such as the United Nations [95].On the other hand, bottom up, European citizens can form a citizens' initiative. It works as an invitation to the European Commission to propose legislation on matters where the EU has competence to legislate. It has to be backed by at least one million EU citizens, coming from at least 7 out of the 28 member states. A citizens' initiative can be formed for any field where the Commission has the power to propose legislation, for example agriculture, environment or public health [102]. Moreover, the European Commission highlights the importance of national justice systems and the rule of law. Effective national justice systems are crucial for the implementation of EU law, for the strengthening of mutual trust and for upholding the values upon which the EU is founded. Effective justice systems are also key players in providing greater regulatory predictability, creating an investment friendly environment or restoring confidence and sustainable growth [108].

 D7.1R fig03
Figure 3

Since the establishment of the European Commission, there were 180 European projects with the word WATER in the Acronym Project and 75 with the word AGRI, under different founding systems (Framework founding, Horizon 2020, European Research Center, etc.) [86]. Moreover, inter-governmental joint programming initiatives are formed to tackle major societal challenges unable to be addressed by individual countries. This are contributions to the development of the European Research Area. In 2010, the joint programming initiative ‘Water challenges for a changing world’, the Water JPI was formed. It tackles the challenge of achieving sustainable water systems for a sustainable economy in Europe and abroad [100]. Knowledge and innovation communities bring together higher education, research, business and entrepreneurship in order to produce new innovations and new innovation models that can inspire others to follow. They are created by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), founded in 2008 [100].

There are reasons to believe, that certain policy support work better than other as some have a cleaner message for the final recipient. For example, Service contracts that address specific questions of DGs are more successful than big FP7 or H2020 projects, with high quality scientific output but often without clear messages for the final recipient.  


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