A project of Public participation in Water Governance in Greece, on Managing the Anthemountas River Basin, under the WFD provisions and the funding of EU LIFE programme.
Problems and Purpose
The management of water supplies provided by the Anthemountas river basin in Northern Greece became necessary due to population increases in the nearby metropolitan area and growing demands for water by the agricultural industry. With numerous stakeholders in the process, the EU LIFE environmental funding programme saw Anthemountas as a perfect opportunity to implement the European Water Framework Directive (WFD). Under the Directive, “a [project of] sustainable water resources management” was established and, pursuant to Article 14, it was participatory in nature, involving all stakeholders and the regional community in deliberative decision making.
Background History and Context
Around the world, citizens and stakeholders have been increasingly involved in the consultation and, in some cases, the decision making process of sustainable development projects. The positive trend in resource co-management and service co-production can be roughly traced back to the Earth Summit of 1992. Held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Summit established the “Agenda 21” which called for “greater local government involvement in sustainable agricultural and urban development”.
Following the establishment of ‘Agenda 21’, the European Commission, implemented the EU LIFE programme, a “financial instrument supporting environmental, nature conservation and climate action projects throughout the union”. The programme has the dual purpose of initiating sustainable development and providing financial aid to its realization. Crucially, the EU LIFE programme and all initiatives advanced therein stress the active participation of citizens and stakeholders in consultation and decision making.
In the case of Anthemountas in Greece, the management of environmental resources had been dominated by a centralized, bureaucratic government which, according to critics, “lacked the ability to solve the increasingly more complex problems that are emerging”. With the advent of Agenda 21 and EU LIFE, “the notion of government as the single decision-making authority [was] replaced by the notion of ‘polycentric’ governance that acknowledges the involvement of various stakeholders in the overall management of a resource”. Seeing the need for a redevelopment of the Anthemountas River Base, the EU LIFE programme initiated a multi-stakeholder management process from 2006-2007 ending with the establishment of a permanent, ongoing system of public monitoring.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The key factors/partners involved in the project under the support and funding of the EU LIFE were the beneficiary Anatoliki S.A., the Region of Central Macedonia, the Municipality of Thermi – which shares jurisdiction of the basin area with two other municipalities - the National Technical University of Greece, the Hellenic Centre of Environment and Sustainable Development, and the Autonomous University of Barcelona. The project was funded jointly between the EU LIFE programme (with an estimated €688,000 ($812,000)) and the regional government (with an estimated €1,403,000 ($1,566,372)). This funding largely reflects the cost associated with the technical implementation of the project; amounts dedicated to the participatory process are unknown.
However, all forms of public engagement including posters, invitations, telephone communication, forum organization and execution (in public offices and event halls), and funding for the public monitoring committee, were provided by the regional and municipal governments via funding from the national government, but also from European Union subsidies programme. However, such data is not calculated and thus not provided.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
While public participation was a main focus of the project, the topic is relatively niche and thus specific groups of the public were interested in attending (local farmers, local community, NGOs). Participation was targeted at “local farmers, opinion leaders and students of the elementary and high schools” and final attendance was largely representative of those directly affected by the project. However, no one was excluded from participating and efforts were made to inform the regional public of the event and the LIFE programme.
The public participation process was divided into three forums open to all public interested in the event. For the first forum, 100 posters were placed in public buildings and transportation hubs and vehicles (buses being the most prevalent). 700 invitations were also sent to citizens of the affected municipalities  with a combined population of 23,000 estimated by the Hellenic Statistical Authority in 2011. 92 people participated in the first forum with 55.5% residing in the area under river basin administration and the other 45.5% residing outside. Of the 55.5% directly affected by the Anthemountas river basin, 64.5% were from the municipality of Thermi, which also has the biggest population compared to the other two municipalities (16,000) compared to 8% coming from the municipality of Anthemountas (3,400) and 27.5% coming from the municipality of Vasilika (3,700). While participation was very low, it should be noted that the the target groups were satisfactorily represented. In the other two forums, participation was kept at the same levels of attendance, suggesting that either the communication to the public was efficient - since those with interest in participating on the Anthemountas river basin management plan came from the beginning and stayed throughout the participation and implication process - or insufficient - as there are certainly more than 92 people affected by the project.
Methods and Tools Used
A programme involving the public in both the development and management of the project is innovative even for Greece where, in ancient times, deliberation and public participation (albeit exclusive to male landowners) was a common aspect of public life. Over time, governance became more centralized and efforts to include citizens in the political sphere decreased. At the time of the Anthemountas initiative, Greece had the lowest level of civic engagement of any EU country. The Anthemountas management project thus brought democratic innovation to 21st Century Greece in the form of co-management of and co-production around natural resources.
Since 2007, similar projects have been carried out such as the Evrotas river basin management plan, which also included public participation. Based on Article 21, the Anthemountas initiative lead by the EU LIFE programme and local governments, made an effort for regional public participation in the consultation and monitoring of the project from the initial phase to the end, as well as an ongoing public monitoring system under the implementation of a local agreement.
All methods and tools used for the public participation and the management of the Anthemountas river basin were in accordance with the Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2000/60/EC (Layman’s Report, ANATOLIKI S.A., 2008). The actual design of the management system was created through three public forums over one year. During the second forum, a committee was formed to draft the 'Water Management Protocol'. The drafting committee represented the major stakeholders: LIFE partners, scientific experts, beneficiaries, and members of the local agricultural community. Once finalized during the ‘Social Local Agreement’, a public committee was instated to oversee the implementation of the final agreements including the establishment of the monitoring system.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The process of planning and implementing the management system took place between the 5th June 2006 to 13th July 2007.
The first phase aimed in raising awareness among the public and mobilizing the participation and support of stakeholders. The second phase involved the first of three public forums during which the public conversed with, asked questions of, and voiced opinions and proposals to local officials and university experts. Areas under focus included the public participation process itself - providing the participants with a chance to review the methods and propose ways to make the process more effective during the next phases - as well as the Anthemountas river basin management plan. As this was this initial phase of dialogue, the deliberation was relatively informal and open, guided by a member of the beneficiary.
In the third phase (2nd forum), the consultation on “economic analysis cost recovery of water services in Anthemountas Basin” as well as the necessary measures for the project were discussed. By the end of the 2nd forum, the committee formed by partners of the LIFE, scientific experts, beneficiary involved, as well as representatives of the agricultural community, developed a Rational Water Management Policy and drafted a Water Management Protocol. The final forum took place on 13th July 2007, in which the policies and protocol made by the committee were presented to the participants in order to be approved and decided with a Social Local Agreement. The agreement was signed by all participants including individuals of the public and a monitoring public committee was formed in order to monitor the process as well as make sure the SLA is implemented. In Greece’s context, the SLA signed by members of the public as well as organizations is something innovative, especially when the Region of Central Macedonia - the government authority responsible for the management of the basin - “acknowledged that it will use the achieved social agreement as the starting point for the area’s water management plan”.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
A Social Local Agreement signed by members of the public as well as organizations is incredibly innovative for a country like Greece which, in 2007, had the lowest levels of civic participation in the EU. The beginning of more participatory form of democracy were heralded by the Region of Central Macedonia’s announcement that the SLA would be “the starting point for the area’s water management plan”. The implementation of the project based on the agreement formed occurred as a result of the support from the LIFE partners and under the WFD regulations. After the success of the Anthemountas project a similar water governance plan was adopted. Coming into effect in late 2009 again under the LIFE programme, the Evrotas River Basin Management Plan was also designed and implemented with public participation as a key component.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Outside analysis of the project by the National Center for the Environment & Sustainable Development list the following elements of public participation as being successfully achieved during the Anthemountas Management Plan design and implementation:
- Broad representation
- Free access to information
- Specification of and agreement on the object of consultation
- Pledge to implement the agreement
- A spirit of cooperation and trust
- Reliability of participants and their organisations
- Transparency 
Despite its apparent success, outside media outlets and the wider Greek public do not appear to have been well-informed of the project as either the EU’s first large-scale co-management of an important natural resource through the Water Framework Directive or as innovative public participation process. According to Christos Nikolaides, “being a Greek citizen prior to studying the case which I found online, I had heard nothing of it neither had family of mine who stay in Thessaloniki which is 100km away from the area studied.” Indeed, the rather low levels of direct participation in consultation indicate the need for a wider information campaign to encourage interest even in those who are not directly impacted by the project. To this end, however, the project organizers did present the project to local high school students: an important achievement considering the future of public participation rests on the initiative of younger generations.
According to a growing body of scholars, public participation needs to be encouraged on a national and local level. “For ‘governance’ and ‘democracy’ to go hand in hand, it seems [...] that ‘participation’ must be tackled with rules and criteria for accountability and plurality”. The main obstacle to the cultivation and deepening of a culture of participation continues in modern day representative democracies is the ever-lengthening history of centralized governance, In Greece especially, where government is commonly described as a “hierarchical and centralized political and administrative structure”  politicians and technocrats continue to claim legitimacy based on a wider knowledge than the majority of the public on policy issues. The case of Anthemountas river basin thus serves as an innovative example of local public participation in the large-scale management of natural resources, not just for the country, but for the rest of the democratic world. Having already inspired a similar project with the Evrotas River Basin, the Anthemountas experience could constitute the beginning of public participation campaigns on other issues of resources management - economic or natural - and more widely, on matters of political direction, organization as well as matters of national importance.
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