'The Rhine as One River'

Rhine Pollution and Multilevel Governance, 1950s to 1970s


  • Daan Sanders
  • Liesbeth van de Grift Utrecht University




Asked why and how cross-border environmental governance developed in Western Europe, the 1970s are generally considered a key decade. By taking the historical evolution of the international Rhine regime as a lens, we will argue that the post-war decades need to be taken into account to understand the major changes that took place from the 1970s onwards. In this article, we examine the large variety of state and non-state actors that became involved in the contestation around the issue of Rhine pollution from the 1950s until the late 1970s. Looking at how problem definitions and strategies changed over time, we answer the question whether enough common ground could be found among water supply companies, horticulturalists and environmental activists to build a coalition against polluting industries, and how the dynamics of their interaction may be described.

De jaren zeventig worden gezien als cruciale periode voor de ontwikkeling van grensoverschrijdend milieubeleid in West-Europa. Dit artikel over de historische ontwikkeling van het internationale Rijnregime toont aan dat een studie van de directe naoorlogse decennia van belang is om de grote veranderingen vanaf de jaren 1970 volledig te begrijpen. In onze bijdrage analyseren we een groot aantal statelijke en niet-statelijke actoren die betrokken waren in de politieke strijd tegen de vervuiling van de Rijn vanaf de jaren vijftig tot en met de jaren zeventig. Met een onderzoek naar veranderende probleemdefinities en strategieën doorheen de tijd gaan wij na of drinkwaterbedrijven, tuinbouwers en milieuactivisten voldoende met elkaar gemeen hadden om een coalitie tegen vervuilende industrieën te voeren en hoe de dynamiek van hun interactie beschreven kan worden.


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Author Biographies

Daan Sanders

Daan Theodorus Sanders holds a Master in history and is a security researcher. He specialises in the international history of the twentieth century. He is particularly interested in the Cold War and the history of nuclear (non)proliferation, and has recently published an article on the Dutch involvement in NATO’s nuclear deterrence in Europe during the early decades of the Cold War: Daan Sanders and Jan Hoffenaar, ‘Going Nuclear, but How? The Netherlands Army and Tactical Nuclear Warfare in Europe, 1953-1968’, International Journal of Military History and Historiography 42:2 (2021) 378-412, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/24683302-bja10019. He conducted the research for this article on Rhine governance in his position as junior researcher at Utrecht University.
E-mail: daan.sanders4@gmail.com.

Liesbeth van de Grift, Utrecht University

Liesbeth van de Grift is Professor of International History and the Environment at Utrecht University. She specialises in the history of interest representation through the lens of environmental governance. Van de Grift leads the NWO Vidi project ‘Consumers on the March: Civic Activism and Political Representation in Europe, 1960s to 1990s’, which studies the role of (public) interest groups and bottom-up mobilisation in the history of European governance. Recent publications include ‘Representing European Society: The Rise of New Representative Claims in 1970s European Politics’, Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 58 (2018) 263-278; with Wim van Meurs, ‘Europeanizing Biodiversity: International Organizations as Environmental Actors’, in: Anna-Katharina Wöbse and Patrick Kupper (eds.), Greening Europe: Environmental Protection in the Long Twentieth Century - A Handbook (De Gruyter 2021) 419-446.
E-mail: l.vandegrift@uu.nl.




How to Cite

Sanders, D., & van de Grift, L. (2022). ’The Rhine as One River’: Rhine Pollution and Multilevel Governance, 1950s to 1970s. BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, 137(4), 87–112. https://doi.org/10.51769/bmgn-lchr.11694