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Über dieses Buch

This book describes the impact of modernization on the organization and sustainability of Urban Water Systems in Europe (UWSEs). Bolognesi explains that the modernization of UWSEs was a regulatory shock that began in the 1990s and was put into action with the EU Water Framework Directive in the year 2000. This process sought to reorganize water governance in order to achieve certain sustainability goals, but it fell short of expectations.

Modernization and Urban Water Governance provides an update on the organization and sustainability of UWSEs, while drawing from a comparative analysis of German, French, and English water models and an institutionalist explanation of the current situation. With a focus on transaction costs, property rights allocation and institutional environments, this book argues that the modernization of UWSEs tends to depoliticize these systems and make them more resilient but also limits their potential for sustainable management.

This book will be relevant to those wishing to understand the real impacts of water reform in Europe according to national contingencies.



1. General Introduction

This chapter presents the approach adopted in the book and its contribution to the field. It defines notions of urban water services in Europe and modernization. To place our contribution within the research areas of the regulation of utilities and water (sustainable) governance, we review challenges that water services face nowadays, especially in Europe. Existing literature emphasizes the crucial role of institutions, focusing mainly on micro-institutions. Consequently, we expose how we study institutions to produce additional knowledge on the governance of urban water services as well as deepening our understanding of those institutions.

Thomas Bolognesi

7. General Conclusion

This chapter puts together the main conclusions of the book and discusses its contribution to the literature. On the empirical side, the urban water system framework could be usefully reused and adapted to other utilities to enable simultaneous analysis of their institutional, economic and technological aspects. On the theoretical side, the book provides original insights on institutional embeddedness through the lens of a complex system approach. As an illustration, interlinkages between property rights and public policies or micro- and macro-institutions are investigated. Finally, we underline two ways of going further in the analysis by taking into account actors’ strategies toward depoliticization, or the impact of resilience and resistance on sustainability according to different time frames.

Thomas Bolognesi

Three Stylized Facts on UWSEs’ Modernization: Depoliticization, Resilience and Sustainability


2. UWSEs’ Organization and Modernization: Similarities and Variations

This chapter highlights how modernization has had an impact on the structure of urban water systems in Europe (UWSE) by depicting a European model and comparing its German, French and English variations. It provides empirical clues which indicate that the ongoing regulatory changes are contributing to reducing the role of the state in the governance of UWSEs in favour of new actors (private operators, civil society or third-party regulatory agencies). Similarly, it appears that the polymorphic character of UWSEs varies according to how far modernization has taken hold and that new contractual forms tend to increase flexibility in UWSEs.

Thomas Bolognesi

3. UWSEs Sustainability and Modernization: Achievements and Main Challenges

This chapter highlights the impact of modernization on the sustainability of urban water systems in Europe and what the remaining challenges are, comparing the cases of Germany, France and England. It shows how economic and environmental aspects of sustainability fall short of expectations while social dimensions have a better outcome. Then the chapter shifts its emphasis to the economic mechanisms used for coordinating the modernization process. These mechanisms improve the ability to adapt in the face of new problems, but also increase uncertainty about future trajectories. The chapter also critically discusses price incentive mechanisms as a means of dealing with resource management and the social dimensions of sustainability.

Thomas Bolognesi

Institutional Hybridization and Inconsistencies: Theoretical Lessons for Institutional Dynamics and Its Sustainability


4. The Micro-institutional Determinants of Depoliticization and Resilience in UWSEs

This chapter explores the reasons why modernization of urban water systems in Europe (UWSE) brings about the process of their depoliticization and shows how modernization implementation goes with a resilient dynamic of water systems. We use transaction cost economics to argue that the modernization process hybridizes governance structures, favouring institutional arrangements that increasingly integrate the characteristics of the specialist market. Modernization is a regulatory shock that modifies the structure of transaction costs into a form whereby coordination through autonomy and the adaptability of key players is favoured. At the same time, modernization empowers stakeholders and increases the possibility of organizational change, helping to increase UWSEs’ resilience.

Thomas Bolognesi

5. The Macro-institutional Determinants of Depoliticization and Resilience in UWSEs

This chapter explores why the modernization of urban water systems in Europe (UWSEs) brings about the process of their depoliticization. Furthermore, it investigates why modernization implementation goes with a resilient dynamic of water systems. It appears that modernization renders the structure of property rights within the UWSEs more complex, expanding the distribution of associated rights of control. This mechanism is central to the depoliticization process. Institutional arrangements reflecting the organizational principles of modernization emerge more easily when institutional matrices give credibility to impersonal commitments and reflect a preference for flexibility. The diversity of capitalism allows these elements and their dynamics to be observed while explaining the variety of ideal-types of UWSEs.

Thomas Bolognesi

6. Institutional Dynamics and Sustainability: The Trade-Off Between Broader Regulation and Consistent Regulation

This chapter explores how the institutional dynamic of modernization limits the potential for the sustainability of urban water systems in Europe (UWSEs), revealing a paradox. Modernization brings with it an increased number of rules intended to regulate UWSEs in a harmonious and sustainable way. However, it appears inherently unable to bring about such a development. This failure comes from the ambivalent effect of the increase in the number of rules in UWSEs, which both generate regulations and inconsistencies. This multiplication of the number of rules stems from two different mechanisms of UWSEs’ expansion (expansion by means of control, and expansion by means of self-organization), which can conflict and impede high coherence of governance.

Thomas Bolognesi


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