Nexus thinking in current EU policies – The interdependencies among food, energy and water resources

In recent years there has been a major, policy-driven increase in research on the food-energy-water- (FEW-) nexus. Although the concept has played a significant role in much of the political sustainability debate since its emergence in 2011, it is increasingly criticized for its conceptual character and lack of practicability. To address the question of the concept’s application in the political practice of the European Union, an analysis of currently existing EU policies has been conducted with specific focus on implemented nexus thinking. To limit the scope of the study, policy documents were chosen from the major political frameworks within the directly nexus-relevant policy sectors agricultural, energy and water policy, most notably – but not exclusively – the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the EU Energy Strategy, and the Water Framework Directive (WFD), as well as documents which address the integration among those. The study included a total of 50 policy documents. An inductive research approach was chosen to derive a FEW nexus specific coding system for the computer-assisted, semi-quantitative and qualitative analysis of the documents. The results reflect the fact that, in the past, policy design has mostly been framed within sectoral mandates, e.g., for water, agriculture or energy. Cross-sectoral effects especially among all three nexus resources have only recently been accounted for and predominantly exist in the form of non-formalized statements of intent. The establishment of cross-sectoral thinking is most advanced between the sectors of agricultural and water policy, mainly driven by their respective and historically grown roles within the nexus system.