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


1. Main Issues (Q1)

The participants were asked about the main issues on the EU level related to drinking water resource protection against diffuse pollution of nitrates and pesticides from agriculture in the EU. The following issues were highlighted by the participants in the workshop (Figure 2a):

  • Lack of knowledge about agricultural impacts on water quality
  • Harmonization of legislation needed at the EU level, with water protection currently a very local issue
  • Lack of coherence between policies
  • Synergies and trade-offs between goals and pathways of pollution
  • Lack of balance between targets and objectives of EU policies
  • A time lag between taking measures and changes in water quality
  • Fragmented and not easily available data
  • Financial questions about available budgets and allocation of the costs

Interviewees highlighted two main issues related to drinking water resource protection in the EU:

  1. There is a general lack of knowledge about the relationship between agriculture and water quality, which calls for a stronger contribution from science, and
  2. drinking water protection is a local issue with local characteristics.

They also indicated that a lack of communication between water authorities, people responsible for RBMPs, the farming community, and agricultural departments is an issue. All agreed that more bottom-up, inclusive processes should be stimulated in the field of water resource protection.

One of the issues concerning nitrates is that the ND does not specify an objective by which specific results have to be achieved, unlike the WFD. There are widely differing interpretations of what role the ND should play in the WFD in addressing nitrate pollution issues. Participants identified significant variations in how member states have addressed this issue. The predominant approach so far has been that member states take a minimum approach to implementation of the ND (only measures that are mandatory for farmers) and that they include voluntary measures as part of WFD implementation, often funded through the Rural Development Program (RDP). Another issue related to nitrate pollution is the cost of investments needed for compliance. For example, for small farmers, it can be difficult to comply with manure storage requirements. Also, as the storage norms have already been enforced for some time now, EU funds can no longer support investments for compliance.

D7.1 fig02q1
Figure 2a

The issue of nitrate pollution from overstocking was mentioned in the workshop, such as in regions in Germany, Flanders, the Netherlands, Brittany, and Catalonia. A significant part of the nitrate pollution comes from farms that do not have land and do not fall under the CAP. In these regions and in regions with intensively managed cropping systems, such as vegetables in Andalucía and the Netherlands, there is frequently an overuse of manure and mineral fertilizers leading to nitrate leaching into groundwater and surface water. Very few member states have set out a comprehensive approach to reducing nitrate leaching in order to meet the target goals of the WFD.

The main issue of pesticides on the EU level is the implementation of the sustainable use of pesticides directive (SUPD). Participants indicated that implementation of the SUPD had been delayed in member states; and, reports on the implementation have been delayed for two years. This report should address issues of pesticides in all areas, not just drinking water. There is a definite increase in pesticide use, so the adoption of integrated pest management across Europe is urgent. Participants stated that the main reason for the delay of the report is political and the report is no longer on the priority list of the European Commission.

The participants of the workshop agreed that there is already much legislation on the protection of drinking water and there is no need to change legislation. It just needs to be implemented well by member states. It was also indicated that the EU level of implementation of legislation is political, and not a science issue. The process of water resource protection is mainly limited by politicians who do not want to impose costs on farmers unduly.

2. Main barriers (Q2)

Sociocultural factors or differences between member state countries and regions in Europe were mentioned as primary barriers to successful implementation of EU water policies. Problems with translation and transposition of EU policies on the local level were also highlighted. The topic of a lack of funding for implementing measures was omnipresent. The main barriers are the following (Figure 2b):

  • Lack of political will to impose costs on farmers, and limited financial means needed to apply specific measures
  • Lack of awareness of the required actions by farmers to achieve water quality targets and a need for capacity in advisory services
  • Lack of communication or synchronization of languages between scientists and policy makers
  • Site-specific aspects in taking effective measures, e.g., differences between member states and regions
  • A time lag between taking measures and subsequent changes in water quality
  • Not enough farmers involved

There were three main barriers mentioned by the interviewees. First, the political priority is important. There is a lack of political will to impose policies and costs on farmers. It is also costly to provide good advisory services and control bodies to check what is happening or should be happening on farms. The second barrier was a need for capacity in advisory services on the implementation of measures and in regulatory bodies on monitoring measures and water quality. There should be a willingness to address these issues. More is needed besides guidelines, i.e., engagement and (auto) control of local actors. The third highlighted barrier is the lack of communication or synchronization between different instruments. The Common Agriculture Policy planning cycle is different from the WFD planning cycle. It happens that when a national RDP as part of CAP is prepared, River Basin Management Plans as part of WFD are not yet approved, etc.

D7.1 fig02q2
Figure 2b

Participants also highlighted that diffuse pollution is much more difficult to manage than point source pollution because it is complicated to control thousands of farmers who take individual actions. Sometimes, the lack of knowledge on good agricultural and environmental conditions in relation to cross-compliance of farming practices and EU policies as well as economic reasons is a significant barrier too. A farmer’s knowledge on the objectives of EU policies, such as the need to decrease nitrate leaching to improve drinking water quality, often varies between member states and depends on the farmer’s age and level of attained education. In addition, manure and fertilizers are often cheap, and from a strictly economic perspective, farmers tend to apply more than sufficient amounts of nitrogen to avoid the risk of low yields in years of optimal conditions. In regions with intensive livestock, manure is often seen as waste and is applied to soils only in the proximity of the livestock farm, because transporting to other regions is too expensive. In the Netherlands, the excess manure of livestock farms (mainly pig farms) has a negative price, meaning that crop farmers receive money for accepting manure from pig farmers. Although manure application is strictly regulated by both nitrogen and phosphorus standards in the Netherlands, the negative manure price (an additional income for crop farmers) does not stimulate innovations to improve the nutrient management and increase the efficient nutrient use of manure.

On the other hand, participants also highlighted good, positive examples in Europe. In Scotland, there is a targeted approach for identifying catchments of higher priority (for drinking water or high-value fisheries). They put most of their resources into these areas, map all of the problems and then go back repeatedly to farmers to give them targeted advice. They also provide economic support to resolve the issues. If the problems are not resolved after the third time, fines are issued. This example stands out as a clear, targeted strategy for delivering results in a given geographic area. However, if this were not a political priority and supported by scientific knowledge, all these efforts would never be made.

3. How the Relationship between Science and Policy is Reflected in EU Policy (Q3)

First, the topic of public participation seen as part of democracy’s impact on science was highlighted in the workshop in relation to the question on how the relationship between science and policy is reflected in EU legislation. Participants of the workshop agreed that public participation could be dangerous because if something is scientifically correct, we cannot discuss it and change it to suit the popular sense (populism, nationalism, corporatism). Participants debated over the fact that scientific work should be done independently because it is a methodological process (while policy or, more precisely, politics is a democratic process). The public could be involved in determining prioritizing issues for investigation and the broader topics that should be included within the scientific process (i.e., effects of sociologic factors). Once the research is finished, information should be presented to the public so that interested parties are made aware of the current status of the topic, and then the information can be used in democratic policy making processes (Figure 2c).

D7.1 fig02q3
Figure 2c

Second, some interviewees pointed out that the formal relationship between science and policy in the EU directives is to be defined in the national transposition, but the policy text does not specify how this should be done. This is a decision of the member states. There is a clear link between science and policy in, for example, the ND and the WFD. The nitrate action plan, to be revised every four years, should be based on monitoring and the results achieved from the previous plan. If there is a feedback mechanism, we can understand what a previous plan has accomplished and can design our next set of measures based on that. In addition, the WFD has articles on different classifications and the need for a plan with the programs of measures that will be addressed. There is a link established between understanding the current situation, knowing what has been done before, and knowing what the end goal is, and then taking the most cost-effective measures to achieve it. It is clear that science and research should take a central role in this process.

One of the workshop participants mentioned an example from Ireland, an agricultural catchment program, where scientists tried many different measures in different catchments to address diffuse pollution. The best measures were then transferred to the ND action program policy making process and included in the RDP to be funded. By demonstrating the measures to the farmers, they learn how they work, which helps to get the measures incorporated into national program. Behind the agricultural catchment program in Ireland was the political will to address the issue. The link is established, and there is a good working relationship between the environmental and agricultural authorities, the agricultural advisory services and the scientists. This often does not work in many member states because there is often no agreement between the agricultural and environmental sides on what should be done.

Third, all interviewees and workshop participants pointed out that there should be more opportunities to enhance the role of scientific expertise in policy making. The entry point for the science/research community, funded by the Horizon 2020 program’s call for a decision-making procedure in the EU, is presented in Figure 3. Interviewees from DGs and certain workshop participants who were previously involved in preparing EU legislation stated that the policy cycle is often so fast that there is not enough time to consider the most valuable independent scientific advice, but rather the most available. Moreover, it was expressed that in many EU research projects, dissemination tended to be very formal and bureaucratic, not designed to maximize impact. Some workshop participants perceived that the way the commission uses the results of these projects is unclear. One of the most relevant factors is low resource availability at the European Commission. Where the highest level of technical knowledge and assessment is located within European institutions, there is limited staff available to deal with all EC essential tasks, so less necessary ones like science-to-policy interaction are often not given priority. Some participants think that the CORDIS web platform used by the commission is not always helpful; some stated that it appears that while the EU is funding projects, they are not using the information they provide. An idea was proposed to set up a functional system of disseminating summaries, by topic, to civil servants who could use the information.

Fourth, participants of the workshop pointed out the importance of numerous ongoing and available service contracts for DG Environment, e.g., implementation of the Nitrates Directive. Studies include assessments of nitrate action plans (with measures) of member states and general studies on aspects of nitrate leaching. The commission uses the results of these studies in discussions with member states. This means that it is clear how the role of science supports the implementation of the Nitrates Directive. The commission has similar service contracts for other environmental directives. So, in general, the commission uses scientific information in its policies from specific service contracts. However, it is doubtful whether the member states and farmers use this information.

D7.1 fig03
Figure 3


4. Improvements and Possible Solutions for Enhancing the Role of Integrated Scientific Support in EU Policy Decision Making (Q4)

The main debate at the workshop regarding solutions for improvement highlighted the need for the use of language that is easy for policy makers to understand and the need for physical meetings with project participants and stakeholders (Figure 2d). Interviewees agreed that system improvements and possible solutions for enhancing the role of scientific support for EU policy making are an issue of national implementation.

D7.1 fig02q4
Figure 2d

The reform of CAP (seven-year cycles), constantly under negotiation, can enhance the role of science. For example, one proposed improvement is to make sure that there are clearly defined indicators in the monitoring and evaluation of CAP-supported efforts targeting reduced water pollution. Article VII of the WFD requires measures to be put in place at the catchment level so that the need for water companies to reduce their pollution will decrease. This measure should be reflected in agricultural legislation or in RDP to make sure that the costs are picked up by the CAP budget, farmers or consumers, and not by drinking water providers. The WFD will be reviewed in 2019, which will explicitly provide an opportunity to enhance the role of science in policy making. One of the interviewees proposed that this process could set a new attitude for policy makers and administrators regarding the current status, needs or upcoming changes, due to technological, practical or environmental changes in all connected sectors.

Workshop participants recalled that policy is now often based on indicators or data that are sometimes inconsistent, even outdated. All workshop participants agreed that with the digital revolution, with machine learning and data mining, we could and should have a real-time picture of what is happening (for example, with water quality in Europe). They added that many of the current instruments and mechanisms need to adapt and evolve. We can no longer implement a certain measure unchanged for six years. Instead, we should be monitoring and adapting in real time in order to provide more value for the public money spent. The entire relationship between data, information and decision making needs to change.

One of the proposed solutions from the participants was that the EU, as well as local actors, would need to equip themselves to make use of these new technologies, for example, to use data platforms and data mining. It was recommended to use these technologies as well as information from other fields and departments as a “feedback loop”, where one does something, gets feedback, and can then make adjustments based on the feedback. The EU is now actively pushing for data reuse and open data. The same data can be used for different purposes. Participants agreed that there is a high demand for specific dissemination techniques for specific audiences and in local languages. Relevant scientific knowledge is, broadly speaking, mostly available, and it should be translated into information that farmers and stakeholders at the local level can use in practice.

Besides the service contracts mentioned in Question 3, participants proposed that civil servants of the commission should have regular involvement in projects, such as H2020 projects, so that they can obtain new knowledge over the course of the project. This could be done by giving civil servants a definite role in the project (for example, in presentations, workshops, interviews, etc.). Furthermore, some projects focus on “their business” regardless of whether the topic is on the political agenda of the EC or not, with the aim of “ticking boxes” to fulfil the grant agreement obligations. One trend to make this process easier for everyone is to establish project clusters, aimed at longer-term approaches/teams and the use of gatekeepers in the relationship/communication flows. An example of such a cluster is the Biorefine Europe cluster (, which interconnects projects and people within the domain of bio-based resource recovery and strives to contribute to more sustainable resource management.


Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see

» References

Go To Top