EU Environmental Legislation
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EU Environmental Legislation

Legal Perspectives on Regulatory Strategies

Edited by Marjan Peeters and Rosa Uylenburg

This thought-provoking book offers a cross-cutting debate on EU environmental legislation from a legal perspective focussing on key themes such as regulatory instrument choice, the coherency of law, and enforceable commitments.
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Chapter 7: Obligations of result or best efforts: Dealing with problems of interpretation

Jasper van Kempen


One of the problems of current European environmental law is its ever-increasing complexity. Nowadays, it can be very difficult for Member States to understand exactly what the European directives require them to do. Although it was one of the aims of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) to streamline European water legislation by repealing several old directives and thus creating a clearer set of rules for Member States, complexity has instead continued to increase. New obligations and standards regarding ecological quality were introduced, rendering especially its Article 4, which contains the environmental objectives, notoriously complex. Appendices with detailed, often technically complex information, far exceeding the number of pages of the directive itself are introduced to further specify what Member States are required to achieve. This means that the single obligation to achieve good water status is actually only the tip of an iceberg that is by itself very difficult to grasp. At the same time, the wording of the Article deviates from what we have been used to seeing in older environmental directives, leaving its interpretation even more unclear. Although the WFD has indeed brought more coherence and uniformity to the body of EU water law, it has thus not become much clearer what each Member State is obliged to do. On the contrary, interviews show that many public servants have no idea what exactly is required. One of the key questions they are concerned with is whether Article 4 contains obligations of result or obligations of best efforts.

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