Danube Watch 3/2020 - Public Participation within the Legal Setting of EU's Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive

Public Participation within the Legal Setting of EU's Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive

The ICPDR is committed to active public participation in its decision-making. The commission believes that this facilitates broader support for policies and leads to increased efficiency in the implementation of actions and programmes. Active consultation with stakeholders as well as the public takes place throughout the entire cycle of all ICPDR activities, ranging from developing policies, to implementing measures and evaluating impacts. A legal framework for this is provided by Article 14 of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) along with Articles 9 and 10 of the EU Floods Directive (FD).

March 31st, 2021, the Danube River Basin Management Plan and Danube Flood Risk Management Plan Update 2021 were published for public consultation. Comments can be sent until 30th September, 2021. They will be taken into account during the review and finalisation of the plans, ending in December, 2021.

In its pursuit of sustainable transboundary river management and effective flood risk management in the Danube River Basin, the ICPDR continues to improve and protect a high level of water quality throughout the region. All of this work began back in 1994 with the signing of the Danube River Protection Convention, but also includes the EU Water Framework Directive (2000) and the EU Floods Directive (2007).

The ICPDR develops such plans, which emphasise public participation, at 6-year intervals: a River Basin Management Plan and a Flood Risk Management Plan for the Danube River Basin. These plans aim to implement the legal requirements of WFD and FD, comprising strategic guiding plans for water management over the course of six years. Both are to be developed with a range of public consultation measures which lie at the core of the ICPDR's central work programmes and, as such, should be developed with the strong involvement of civil society and stakeholders from the beginning via public participation events such as workshops. As the culmination of our six-year management cycle, the ICPDR is currently developing its Danube River Basin Management Plan and Danube Flood Risk Management Plan Updates 2021, which will guide activities throughout the Danube River Basin from 2021 to 2027. These plans aim to make the waters of the Danube River Basin cleaner, healthier and safer. They will further protect and enhance the status of all waters and ensure the sustainable, long-term use of water resources as well as the sustainable management of flood risks.

For the development of the management plans, representatives of civil society and stakeholders are called upon to contribute their views, give us their opinions and have their say. The people of the Danube River Basin will be affected by the measures following the plans for generations to come and, therefore, are given an opportunity to have a word on their development from the beginning.

Recently, through an increased awareness of environmental issues, a growing appreciation for the ways in which the environment affects public health, and the more direct contact of social media, public participation in these processes is very much on the rise. The ICPDR is taking this opportunity to further open its doors and mechanisms to invite the public to participate in a variety of ways – and the public is growing increasingly engaged as a result. This is a vital shift, considering that environmental policy and management only succeed if key stakeholders feel engaged and buy into the design of all the actions concerned. A ‘bottom-up’ approach today means that people can share information and responsibilities; they can partake in the design of programmes, monitor and evaluate progress - and all without central management. Key forms of participation, such as the dissemination of information, public advocacy, public hearings and litigation, assist environmental decision-makers in identifying the concerns of the general public. A recent shift towards decentralising strategies also encourages the active participation of organised groups, communities and citizens at a more local level. The increasing number of ways in which the public can be reached is useful for broadening our methods and putting together a new approach for engaging the public, exploiting rising awareness in order to facilitate broader support for our activities and policies and greater efficiency in their effective implementation.

Communities can become more meaningfully involved in the work of the ICPDR if they are well informed about its objectives and structure. Public information, educational initiatives and outreach activities are therefore already being utilised to support public participation, in addition to the more general use of social media as a communication tool. The ICPDR is currently engaged in the following public participation activities:

  • public information dissemination. This includes social media posts, technical reports, public documents and general publications (e.g. Danube Watch);
  • awareness-raising educational resources, including environmental education. This includes a variety of proposed new materials, awareness raising activities (e.g. the annual Danube Day festivities and activities such as the Danube Art Master competition) and outreach;
  • public consultation activities. These can be events such as Q&A sessions regarding the development of river basin management plans, and the opening of subject-related communication channels or consultation workshops. The use of ICPDR.ORG and the ICPDR social media platforms for publishing information about these issues is essential.

Acting early is also important. By ensuring buy-in and a sense of ownership in our target audience at an early stage of the process, any basin/sub-basin approach will stand a better chance of success. The benefits of early engagement in the development and design of our two plans and projects include:

  • fewer misunderstandings, fewer delays and more effective implementation and monitoring;
  • the resulting smoother running of a project can lead to more cost-effective solutions;
  • all later decisions are more likely to receive public acceptance, commitment and support. Attitudes to the decision-making process will also be generally improved;
  • increasing stakeholder awareness of the various issues in the related river basin district and sub-basins before environmental efforts become worse and thus harder to resolve;
  • helping to normalise common discourse earlier in the implementation process.

 

The ICPDR supports the active involvement of stakeholders and civil society at all levels of its work. This is pursued through observer organisations, as well as through public consultation activities for the development of management plans. To ensure a high level of public information, educational and outreach initiatives support the public participation work of the ICPDR.

Hélène Masliah-Gilkarov is the ICPDR's Technical Expert for Public Participation & Communication and Executive Editor of Danube Watch

Next: Danube Watch 3/2020 - The DanubeSediment Project: Upping Stakeholder Know-how

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