Main authors: Matjaž Glavan, Špela Železnikar, Sindre Langaas, Gerard Velthof, Susanne Wuijts, Sandra Boekhold, Susanne Klages, Claudia Heidecke, Marina Pintar
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: Glavan M.J. et al. (2019) Evaluation report on barriers and issues in providing integrated scientific support for EU policy. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 7.1 25 pp


Safe drinking water is vital for public welfare and is an essential driver of a healthy economy. Throughout the European Union (EU), nitrates and pesticides are currently among the significant polluters of drinking water. High concentrations of nitrates and pesticides, with a long-term impact on groundwater quality, have human (drinking water) and environmental (eutrophication of groundwater-dependent ecosystems) health consequences [1, 2]. In order to protect drinking water sources, and sometimes for complementary reasons, the EU has developed an extensive set of water-related 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 Nitrates Directive (ND), and the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (DSUP) require member states to protect, among other things, 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 other actors in the last decade has been the need to develop a conceptual framework to strengthen the role of science in relation to water. This is especially important when it comes to policies involving water security as various initiatives and knowledge exchanges must be enabled in order to support EU policy making and the implementation of EU policies on a national level [3]. One of the conclusions from the European Commission (EC) report on scientific evidence for policy making is that decision makers in policy and practice typically can benefit from more use of available research-based knowledge. Yet, researchers should produce more knowledge that is directly or easily usable by various specific audiences and on all levels of practical decision making [4]. It could be argued that the limited role of science in policy making will be overcome when its complexity and heterogeneity is successfully incorporated into policy measures [5]. Moving towards more evidence-based policy making within the EU necessitates better integration and collaboration (co-creation and co-design) at the science/policy interface [6]. Many contextual, structural and cultural factors often inhibit better collaboration, such as a lack of opportunities to work together, inconsistent working methodologies used in the decision-making process, political views of national governments, socio-economic differences, and a lack of effective communication channels between nations [4]. To adequately address drinking water security, better integration of science and policy is required at all levels of policy making [7]. The literature states that existing practices that attempt to bridge the gap between research and policy making do not provide efficient solutions [8–11]. Therefore, the EU has emphasized the importance of strengthening the dialogue between policy makers and researchers at the EU, national, and regional levels with clear scientific explanations of EU policies. Clear examples of that approach are the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) groups and WFD Common Implementation Strategies guidance documents. These principles are the key to maximizing the impact of scientific evidence in policy development and implementing policy in real life. Concepts such as multi-actor platforms are devised to stimulate improved dialogues between concerned actors including scientists, policy makers, decision makers, and affected stakeholders.

In this section of FAIRWAYiS we analyze and discuss the role of science in EU policy making and implementation processes concerning the agricultural impact on drinking water quality. This concerns, broadly speaking, the WFD, DWD, GWD, ND, and DSUP. Specifically, we want to identify barriers that hinder the science and research sector from having effective dialogue and cooperating in knowledge sharing from policy making to actual EU policies implementation on the member state or regional level. We argue that the science/research sector’s role in policy making and implementation is vague and dispersed across different stages of the process. It also has different roles in the process, as an initiator of policy, a follower of policy or political strategies, or a participant in the public discussion. Our societal aim of this analysis is to suggest possible long-term system improvements and to encourage scientists and policymakers to develop new solutions for improving communication flow. The study, while conceptual, is based on empirical data collected by a desk study, a workshop with different stakeholders, and individual interviews with EU-level stakeholders.


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