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Water justice: the first successful European Citizen’s Initiative

By Nick Meynen.

A petition calling for water justice has been accepted as the first European Citizen Initiative. A European citizens’ initiative is an invitation to the European Commission to propose legislation on matters where the EU has competence to legislate. There’s reason for hope that this petition will result in an actual policy shift, although much more water will need to flow to the sea before that happens.

A citizens’ initiative has to be backed by at least one million EU citizens. In this case, 1,5 million Europeans from all member states have asked to recognize water as a human right. The coalition of organizations behind the water justice proposal asks the European Commission:

“to propose legislation implementing the human right to water and sanitation as recognised by the United Nations, and promoting the provision of water and sanitation as essential public services for all. The EU legislation should require governments to ensure and to provide all citizens with sufficient and clean drinking water and sanitation. We urge that:

1) The EU institutions and Member States be obliged to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation.

2) Water supply and management of water resources not be subject to ‘internal market rules’ and that water services are excluded from liberalisation.

3) The EU increases its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation.”

At present, 2 million EU citizens do not have proper water or sanitation. Worldwide 800 million people still lack access to water and over 2 billion people do not have access to sanitation. The petition claims that Europe can and should do more. It urges the EU to stop all its current efforts to privatize water services – a condition currently used by the Commission for giving loans to countries such as Greece and Portugal. Mainstream media are picking up their story and the pressure to withdraw such conditions is rising.

Even before the signatures are handed in to the European Commission, in 56 days from now, the European Citizens’ Initiative on water as a human right has achieved a first political success. Commissioner Barnier has announced that water will be excluded from the concessions directive.

“I fully understand why citizens are both angry and upset when they are told their water services might be privatised against their will. I would feel the same if there was such a risk. It has led to the first European citizens’ initiative and 1.5 million people signing a petition on water. Despite all the changes to the legal text, and the contributions from all political parties in the European Parliament and the Council, it is my judgment that the text we now have relating to water is not satisfactory for anyone: it does not provide the reassurances that citizens expect and it creates fragmentation in the single market. That is why the best solution now appears to be to remove water from the scope of the concessions directive. It is our duty to take into account the concerns expressed by so many citizens.”

However, the struggle is far from over. This ECI does not only address the way water services should be provided, but it addresses first and foremost the lack of water and sanitation for so many citizens. This campaign is a means of getting a commitment to the human right to water and sanitation. It is a tool to change the mind-set in the European Commission from a market-based approach with the focus on competition to a rights-based approach with the focus on public service. It aims to achieve universal (global) access to water and sanitation and to safeguard the limited public water resources for future generations. Many millions of people continue to be deprived of clean, safe and affordable water and sanitation, even in Europe. The European Commission can do something about it and it now seems likely that they will do something about it in some policy cycles – but how far will they go and will it be enough to halt the current privatization trend? The more signatures collected, the more pressure to stop this madness so if you have not signed yet – you can do this until September 9 by signing here.

UPDATE – 17 july

Paolo Carsetti, from the secreteriat of the Italian Movement for water shared the experiences in Italy with the struglle against water privatisation:

“Two years since the extraordinary victory of the referendum against privatization of water of the 12th and 13th of june 2011, various have been the attacks to such results starting by provisions approved, first by Berlusconi government and then by the Monti government, trying to cancel the referendum’s outcome. Only with the intervention of the Constitutional Court with the sentence 199/2012 of july 20th 2012, citizens’ will has been restored. Today, whoever get interested in the struggle for social reappropriation of water might imagine we are merged in a phase of defense, but this is far from being the case. In fact, if a year ago the italian movement for water could only praise as concrete result the “re-publicization” of Naples’ water services’ company, today there are numerous similar processes developing themselves all over the peninsul with the only aim to practice concretely  the transformations set by the vote of the absolute majority of italian citizens.”

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