France: River Basin Management
The French policy tradition corresponds with its centralised system of public administration and
communes (or municipalities). Both regions and departments have both by a state appointed prefect and an elected council (Wright,
a dual 1989).
character, that is, The department
they are led is the most
important entity, and the the department level. A
traditional ministries of industry and agriculture have branch administrations at Ministry of the Environment had already been established by 1971, but it has
remained small, without its own branch administrations at recruit their officials from each of the traditional engineer rely on such a single administrative corps, and lacks the these corps (Larrue, 1992).
the department level. corps, the Ministry of internal and external
While the ‘old’ministries the Environment does not hegemony that envelopes
The Loi de l’Eau, passed in 1964 shortly after de Gaulle came to power, was in many respects exemplary, according to the views of both economists and technocrats (Nicolazo, 1989). Integrated water management was introduced, and a new system of River Basin Agencies based on effluent charges were established to lead water pollution control. Each of these six River Basin Agencies were supposed to take the responsibility for the management of ground and surface water in hydrological basins along the large French rivers. This new system was built on ’top’ of the original water act of 1917, which had vested the
Departments with the authority to grant discharge permits.
However, because of the influential
Association of Mayors, the River Basin Agencies were not allowed to manage actual pollution treatment,
as envisaged in the draft act. communes.
The construction of sewage plants was to remain with the French
Local authorities in France have not been reorganized since Napoleon, and France has more than 36,000 communes, which is more than one finds in the rest of the EU altogether (Ministère de l'Intérieur, 1991). The numerous and weak local authorities are the complement to the powerful state authorities. Ninety per cent of French communes have less than 2,000 inhabitants, and they have to cope with very re- stricted sources of revenue. Consequently, both water supply but also sewage plants are to a large extent managed by private contractors from the French water industry (Lorrain, 1991). The communes also de- pend on subsidies from the state, the departments, or the River Basin Agencies for water pollution control.
A system of effluent charges was introduced with the Loi de l'Eau, but not quite in accordance with the economist's textbook. The charges apply to all entities discharging to surface waters, and are based on specific pollutants. However, the River Basin Agencies have not been free to set these charges, but have been subject to control from the Ministry of Finance. Because of restrictions on tax burdens on the public, most pronounced during Mitterand's presidencies, the charges have been too small in them- selves to induce any control of pollution. The revenue has been controlled by the River Basin Agencies, who have used the funds to support industries and communes that were willing to take measures to control pollution. In the 1970s, the Ministry of the Environment, which is without its own funds, created a system of Branch Contracts, where selected industrial branches agreed to reduce pollution if they received subsidies from the River Basin Agencies (Harrison and Sewell, 1980). Later, similar River Contracts that involved both industries and local authorities along certain sections of rivers were introduced.
The existence of River Basin Agencies that could levy effluent charges, in combination with the branch contracts developed by the Ministry of Environment in which effluent charge revenues were earmarked for pollution control, were responsible for most of the progress in pollution reduction. The