B. Policy Making

44. Water services sector policy-making responsibilities remain with central government authorities, but are usually shared among different ministries, sometimes creating coordination challenges. Defining strategies and policies of water services in the region remains the responsibility of the central government and its different ministries in almost all countries of the region (the only exception being Bosnia and Herzegovina - Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Entity, where water services policies are the responsibility of regional authorities). The tradition of a strong central government is still present in some countries (Ukraine), while others are experiencing extensive decentralization (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Policy-making responsibility for water service provision is commonly shared among different government ministries and is broadly follows a similar pattern where (a) water resource management is mostly the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture (but in some countries also of the Ministry of Environment), (b) water utility affairs and infrastructure development are the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of Regional Development (or other ministries dealing with local self-governments), (c) wastewater treatment standards are mostly the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment, and (d) drinking water standards are mostly the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. The multiplication of water-services-related ministries sometimes creates confusion or leads to a lack of ownership for any utility reform agenda. To alleviate this challenge, some countries have resorted to the creation of coordination bodies (the Inter-ministerial Council for Water in Kosovo and the National Water Council in Albania, for example). In other cases, the waterworks association (Romania) or the regulatory authority (Hungary) have taken active policy coordination or advocacy roles. In only a few countries (such as Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia) all aspects of water service provision are concentrated in a single ministry (usually the Ministry of Agriculture), but even in those cases, the Ministries of Environment and Health retain significant monitoring and environmental protection responsibilities.

The Water Framework Directive
The Water Framework Directive (WFD, Directive 2000/60/EC) has introduced into EU legislation a new objective to protect aquatic ecosystems in a more holistic way, while considering the use of water for life and human development. The WFD has introduced a number of key principles into the management and protection of aquatic resources, including an integrated planning process at the scale of river basins, comprehensive assessment of impacts, economic analysis of the measures proposed or taken, and integrated water resources management principles encompassing targeting environmental objectives with water management and related policy objectives. The key tool for the implementation of the WFD is the River Basin Management Plans and the accompanying Programs of Measures to improve water status. The directive aims to achieve good water status in all natural surface waters and groundwater. For surface waters, the definition of “good” is based on a new concept of “ecological quality,” taking into account biology, chemistry, and their physical features. The WFD provides for a number of deadlines by which Member States must fulfill particular obligations. Furthermore, the WFD introduces the requirement of cost recovery for water services, as well as public information and consultation in water management.

45. Even though EU water directives do not explicitly mandate specific governance or regulatory frameworks for water services, they implicitly drive sectorial changes in the region, not only in member countries, but also in the membership-aspiring countries. EU water directives (primarily the WFD, the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive [UWWTD], and the Drinking Water Directive [DWD]—see boxes), are mostly concerned with the protection of water resources, the environment and human health, and the sustainable use of water resources. In contrast to directives in other sectors, they do not explicitly mandate specific governance or regulatory frameworks for the provision of water services, and in fact, among EU member states in the Danube region and beyond, a wide diversity of organizational structure can be observed. Their main direct impact on water services is through the definition of requirements for drinking water quality, wastewater collection and treatment requirements (part of the EU acquis communautaire), and the overall requirement for recovery of costs in accordance with the polluter pays principle. However, some stakeholders in the region have derived further implicit or perceived policy recommendations, such as the need to consolidate water utilities to facilitate the absorption of EU funds and the development of cost-effective investment packages; or the demand for a stronger regulatory framework to ensure compliance with the cost recovery requirements. At any rate, all EU member countries have completed the formal transposition of relevant EU water directives, and candidate or potential candidate countries are in the process of aligning their water policies with requirements of the EU acquis and relevant EU directives. 

46. EU directives compliance deadlines for each new EU country are defined in the Accession Treaties, and are set on the basis of the size of agglomeration, percentage of load and/or individual agglomeration, and sensitivity of receiving waters. While some EU countries in the region have reached full compliance with the directives, the transition deadlines for certain categories have still not arrived for Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia (see Chapter IV, Section C for an overview of current compliance rates). Notably, several potential candidate countries have started the transposition of EU directives into their national systems, even before obtaining formal candidate status, demonstrating early commitment to EU directive objectives.

47. The large majority of countries in the region have prepared water strategies that define sector strategic objectives. The preparation of a solid water sector strategy is seen as a foundation of sector development in most of the countries of the region, and such documents were recently prepared and adopted in 12 countries of the region (Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Serbia), while a further two countries (Kosovo and Moldova) have drafts prepared. Only two countries (Hungary and Ukraine) do not have a designated water sector strategy, but cover the water-related issues through a number of different sectorial strategies or government programs. Adopted national water strategies commonly provide strategic objectives, and determine resources and actions needed to achieve sectorial goals. The water supply and sanitation sector is mainly focused on (a) increased water supply and sanitation coverage, (b) improved protection of waters from point source pollution, and (c) achieving cost recovery and sustainability of operation within 10 to 25 years. In EU member and candidate countries, all recently prepared strategies have a strong EU compliance dimension, and objectives that are aligned with transposition of EU water directives (aiming for full compliance by the end of the agreed individual transition period). The only exception is Austria, which is already in compliance with the EU directives, so its focus has shifted to maintenance and climate change adaptation as the next level of challenge in the water sector.

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive
The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD, Directive 91/271/EEC) is an emission-control-oriented directive and one of the major water policy tools in Europe. Its objective is to protect the water environment from the adverse effects of discharges of urban wastewater from settlement areas and from industrial wastewater from the agrofood sector. The directive applies to agglomerations with more than 2,000 population equivalent (p.e.), and requires the appropriate collection of sewage and regulates discharges of wastewater by specifying the minimum type of treatment to be provided and setting maximum emission limit values on the major pollutants (organic load and nutrients). The directive requires the collection and treatment of wastewater in agglomerations with a p.e. of over 2,000, and more advanced treatment in agglomerations with a p.e. greater than 10,000 in sensitive areas. It is widely considered to be the most expensive piece of legislation of the acquis communautaire.

48. Even among countries with significant Roma minorities, few perceive this as a water service provision issue or have specific service provision schemes for such groups. While a number of countries in the region, including Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia, have large concentrations of Roma (see Chapter II, Section B), only in FYR Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina do some utilities have a special approach to marginalized groups (consisting mostly of the free provision of a basic quantity of  water or discounts on the water tariff). All other countries state that they have the same approach to all customers regardless of their ethnicity or social status. The issue of the position of marginalized groups is commonly defined in national strategy (in some cases in legislation) for such groups, but assistance for populations with adverse social and economic conditions is usually provided by a combination of state and municipal support, with very few cases also including direct subsidies for water or other municipal services (see Chapter VI, Section D for more details).

The Drinking Water Directive
The Drinking Water Directive (DWD, Directive 98/83/EC) concerns the quality of water intended for human consumption and defines the essential drinking water quality standards at EU level. Its objective is to protect human health from the adverse effects of any contamination of water intended for human consumption by ensuring that it is wholesome and clean. The directive applies primarily to systems providing drinking water to more than 50 people or 10m3/day.

49. Gender is not perceived as an issue in the water services sector, even with disproportionately low representation of women in water utility staff. Gender imbalance is not perceived as an issue in the water sector in any of the 16 countries of the region (SoS data collection), and is as such not covered under existing sector strategies. However, expert opinions also confirm that there is a general gender imbalance among water utility staff, particularly at the decision-making/management level. Underrepresentation of women among utility staff is usually explained by experts as being due to the physically demanding work requirements, although this does not explain the underrepresentation of women at the management level.