From the mid-1990s to the recent international economic crisis, the European Union (EU27) experienced a significant economic growth and a flat population increase. During these years, the water resources directly used by the EU countries displayed a growing but smooth trend. However, European activities intensively demanded water resources throughout the whole global supply chain. The growth rate of embodied water use was three times higher than the growth in water directly used by these economies. This was mainly due to the large upsurge of virtual water imports in the EU (e.g., about 25% of the change in water imports in the world was directly linked to the increasing imports in the EU27 countries). In this context, we analyze water use changes in the EU27 from 1995 to 2009, combining the production and consumption perspectives. To that aim, we use the environmentally extended input-output approach to obtain the volume of water embodied in domestic production and in trade flows at the sector and country levels. In the empirical analysis, we utilize multi-regional input-output data from the World Input Output Database. In addition, by means of a structural decomposition analysis we identify and quantify the factors explaining changes in these trends. We focus both on the role of domestic production and trade and estimate the associated intensity, technology and scale effects. This analysis is done for different clusters, identifying singular patterns depending on income criteria. Our results confirm the boost of demand growth in that period, the positive but negligible effect of structural change, and the decline in water intensity which, however, was not enough to compensate the effects on water associated to the economic expansion in the period. These findings also point at a gradual substitution of domestic water use for virtual water imports. More concretely, in most countries the food industry tended to reduce its backward linkages with the domestic agricultural sector, increasing the embodied water in agricultural imports from non-European regions.
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