ICPR – International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine

Conceiving cooperation

1950 - 1971

Legal basis
The foundation of the ICPR five years after the end of World War II was a first political success. On 11 July 1950, the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine against Pollution (ICPR) began its discussions on issues of Rhine protection and monitoring with a view to finding joint solutions. Mutual confidence had to be carefully created in the international working groups of the ICPR.

The high pollutant loads and the contamination of the Rhine with salt were of great concern for the downstream users.

Thirteen years after its foundation the ICPR was given a status under international law. On 29 April 1963 the envoys of the German, French, Luxembourgian, Dutch and Swiss government signed the "Convention on the international Commission for the Protection of the Rhine against Pollution" in Berne (only in German and French).

On year later (1964) a permanent international secretariat  was established in Koblenz, Germany, in order to coordinate the cooperation of the contracting parties in the working languages German and French (since 1999 also in Dutch).

Conception of an international monitoring network
The first challenge was to establish a uniform monitoring programme from Switzerland and down to the Netherlands. This required an agreement on and comparison of the different national monitoring stations, the substances to monitor and the analysis methods.

Efforts made during the first years paid off. Due to a joint approach of the authorities in charge, the Rhine water quality could and can still be assessed reliably and definitely on a scientific basis.

However, there was no improvement of water quality to measure. On the contrary: By the end of the 1960s the Rhine water quality was as bad as it had never been before. The cause was the continuously rising industrial production, particularly of the chemical industry in the 1960s. The public was no longer convinced that authorities and industry were really willing to protect the Rhine.

After a severe chemical accident in June 1969 causing great fish mortality as far downstream as the Netherlands, which was caused by a wave of thiodan (endosulfan) from the R. Main and several accidents and incidents in the following years the governments realized that they had to join forces and to take countermeasures.