Implementation of the Public Participation Principle in Integrated Water Management - With Special Reference to the ICPDR Communication Strategy - page 01

"Public Participation" According to the EU Water Framework Directive

The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires member states to ensure appropriate public information and consultation1. According to the Common Implementation Strategy (CIS) for the WFD, Guidance Document 8, which addresses public participation with regard to the WFD, there are three basic forms of public participation: information supply, consultation, and active involvement.


Figure 1: Forms of public participation.

According to the WFD, the public participation concept is based on mandatory public information and consultation. EU member states are required to promote active involvement of all stakeholders in the development and implementation of water management plans. The WFD calls for the public to be involved in the development, review, and updating of river basin management plans. During the period allotted to the public to comment on the management plans, all representatives of the public can become involved in the debate and submit their comments, assessments, and suggestions aimed at improving the respective management plan. Management plans are established for each river basin district in the EU. The plans are reviewed six years after the beginning of implementation.

It is important to keep the general public informed, in order to ensure or facilitate participation in the planning process. At that level, information needs to be accessible to everyone at any time. The WFD requires encouraging of such active involvement that will ensure consultation and access to background information. Active involvement is not the same as consultation. Consultation means that the public can react to plans and proposals developed by designated bodies, whereas active involvement means that interested audiences may actively participate in debates about specific issues and contribute to the resolution of such issues. With regard to active involvement, the WFD requires involvement of stakeholders directly affected by a specific problem, issue, or topic.


Model of ICPDR's Communication Strategy for Target Audiences

The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) is an international organization established in 1998 to implement the Danube River Protection Convention2. Its contracting parties are 14 states and the EU. The ICPDR is one of the largest and most active international organizations involved in river basin management in Europe. Apart from the Danube, ICPDR activities address the Danube's tributaries and groundwater basins.

Representatives from the Serbian Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection/Water Directorate, Environmental Protection Agency, JVP Srbijavode (Serbia Waters), JVP Vode Vojvodine (Waters of Vojvodina), National Hydrometeorological Service, Jaroslav Černi Institute for the Development of Water Resources, Siniša Stanković Institute of Biological Research, and similar organizations take part in ICPDR activities.

The ICPDR mission is to: promote and coordinate sustainable and equitable water management, including conservation, improvement and rational use of waters for the benefit of the Danube River Basin countries and their people. The ICPDR pursues this mission by making recommendations for the improvement of water quality, developing mechanisms for flood and accident control, agreeing standards for emissions, and assuring that these are reflected in national legislations and applied in policies relating to water management in the Danube countries.

Communication and Public Participation in the Danube River Basin

ICPDR programs are traditionally characterized by public participation. Numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and representatives of the contracting parties' stakeholders and international organizations take part as observers in meetings and workshops organized by the ICPDR and are involved in the activities of expert groups. The ICPDR seeks to attract observers who represent a broad spectrum of stakeholders in the Danube River Basin, including social, cultural, economic and environmental3. The ICPDR initiates activities that facilitate a high level of public consultation during the course of development of management plans, promotes various campaigns to motivate involvement of the civil society, and enters into partnerships and various forms of collaboration with the business sector, through different activities aimed at improving the Danube River Basin. The three previously mentioned forms of public participation (information supply, consultation, and active involvement) are also represented in ICPDR's communication activities.

The implementation of the public participation principle in the Danube River Basin has led to a better information supply, more creative decision-making, improved implementation of the WFD, and better integrated water management, along with a transparent planning process. Constructive dialogs between stakeholders – different audiences, government agencies, and experts, have improved knowledge about WFD implementation.

The main task of the ICPDR communication strategy is to ensure an adequate information supply to the public about the objectives, activities, and achievements of Danube River Basin coordination, and to promote public participation with regard to key issues of water use and protection. Given that the environment and priorities change over time, that it is imperative for the communication strategy to be dynamic and goal-oriented, and that the strategy needs to be reviewed and updated to ensure that it is pursued effectively. The implementation of the communication strategy and public participation take place at several geographic levels, to ensure the possibility of influencing river basin management. The different levels are:

  • International – Danube River Basin level;
  • National/sub-basin – transboundary and/or national level;
  • Local – operational WFD implementation level.

The starting point for the development of such a communication strategy is the assumption that communication will facilitate the creation of a base for effective implementation of proposed activities, as well as develop and support cooperation at the local level, the sub-basin level, and the regional level. Another important aspect of the creation and implementation of the communication strategy is the need to ensure target group and public participation in WFD implementation across the Danube countries, as well as in the establishment of management plans. ICPDR's communication strategy is on a basin scale and the recommendation to the river basin countries is to implement it at other levels (national and local). The ICPDR also initiates the creation of structures that will support public participation in the entire Danube River Basin, in sub-basins, and on national and local levels. Between these levels there are differences with regard to who the participants are, which activities are required, when the activities are to be undertaken, and how they are to be coordinated. Coordination between the levels is necessary and requires careful planning.

1 EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), Article 14
2 The Convention on Co-operation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the River Danube was signed on 29 June 1994 in Sofia by 11 Danube countries and the European Union. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia ratified the Danube River Protection Convention on 30 January 2003 by a special administrative order. The Danube River Protection Convention lays down the principles and rules for the protection and sustainable management of the Danube. Its objectives target the achievement of sustainable use and equitable management of water resources in the river basin, including measures for the conservation of ecosystems, and improvement and efficient use of surface water and groundwater in the entire river basin. Serbia and Montenegro became a full member of the ICPDR on 19 August 2003. The ICPDR is comprised of 14 Danube countries, signatories of the Danube River Protection Convention, and the EU.
3 Benedikt Mandl, "Public participation in the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River", in: „Public Participation and Water Resources Management: Where Do We Stand in International Law?", International Conference, Geneva, 13 December 2013, Proceedings, UNESCO, 2015.