Reading the available evidence on the implementation of the European Water Framework
Directive (WFD), one gets the impression that some countries anticipate implementation
problems by starting off pragmatically and with relatively low ambitions, while others make a
quick and ambitious start and tend to slow down in later phases of the process. Inspired by
Lundqvist’s classical study of air pollution policy in the USA and Sweden, we assess the
importance of some general characteristics of the respective political-institutional systems to
explain differences in WFD implementation in four EU countries: Denmark, France, England/
Wales and the Netherlands. We conclude, among other things, that visibility of the policy
process, accountability of politicians and policy makers vis-a`-vis their stakeholders and the
EU, division of responsibilities for policy formulation vs. implementation and the involvement
of the public explain the level of ambition in EU implementation to a considerable extent.
Thus, the Lundqvist variables turn out to be useful for both classifying and explaining
differences in EU implementation processes.