Scholars have tended to treat the European Union (EU) as an environmental ‘leader’. Yet significant potential nonetheless exists for it to learn lessons in areas such as water policy where it has a long and successful history of involvement. The EU's Water Framework Directive (2000) imposes potentially far reaching requirements on its Member States to enhance public participation in the process of catchment management. However, to date, its implementation has been highly variable across and even within individual states. As the EU starts to revise the original Directive, thoughts will turn to how the current situation could be improved. One potentially productive avenue, which has not yet been fully explored, is to draw lessons on public participation from comparable multi-levelled governance contexts such as in the USA and Australia, where public engagement has arguably been more advanced. Drawing on theoretical accounts of the most likely facilitators and obstacles to lesson drawing, this paper assesses the scope for transfer. It finds that while the EU could potentially learn from these jurisdictions, there are likely to be significant obstacles in practice. These should be born in mind by would-be policy learners.