NEWAVE PhD (ESR 06): The European Union as an innovator in water governance paradigms. The case of sources, patterns and effects from the Water Framework Directive

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Amsterdam, , NL

Host institution: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Principal supervisor: Prof. dr. Dave Huitema
Co-supervisor: Prof. Jens Newig
Non-academic co-supervisor: Dr. Monika Weber-Fahr
Application deadline: 15 March 2020
Starting date: Between 1 May and 1 September 2020
Duration: 3 years


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 propogated 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 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 feed back into current and future policy making processes.

This ESR position will:

  1. Analyse the paradigms embedded 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 Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. And to be a university where personal education and societal involvement play a leading role. Where people from different disciplines and backgrounds work together on innovations and on generating new knowledge. Our teaching and research embrace the whole spectrum of science – from the humanities, the social sciences and the pure sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 24,500 students. We employ more than 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible, located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 24,500 students.

We seek
  • A master’s degree in Environmental Policy and Governance, Development Studies, Science and Technology Studies, European Policy, or related, completed with excellent grades
  • A demonstrated interest in water governance or environmental governance more broadly
  • Proven skills in conceptual thinking and in doing empirical research in challenging context
  • Capacity to work independently and as part of a team
  • Examples of high-quality written work, such as a journal paper or equivalent
  • Outstanding interpersonal skills to work with multiple stakeholders and colleagues
  • Candidates must meet the ESR eligibility criteria (see elsewhere on the NEWAVE website)

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

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

Dr. Monika Weber-Fahr
Executive Secretary
Global Water Partnership (GWP), Sweden