1 million citizens try to create a new EU institution

Albert II, King of the Belgians, in the centre, and Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the EC on the right. At the inauguration, of the European School Brussels IV. (EC Audiovisual Services).

Albert II, King of the Belgians, in the centre, and Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the EC on the right. At the inauguration, of the European School Brussels IV. (EC Audiovisual Services).

On April Fools’ Day 2012, the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) came into force and marked the starting point of the first collections of signatures to reach the one million benchmark. The first to accomplish this task are the Organisers of the Right2Water initiative. Incidentally, the European Commission issued an announcement saying that its services will verify the signatures and decide in three months how to act on this.

The main demand of the Rigt2Water initiative is that, “Water is a public good, not a commodity. We invite the European Commission to propose legislation implementing the human right to water and sanitation as recognised by the United Nations”.

According to the organisers, “this ECI is supported by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU). EPSU represents 275 trade unions and over 8 million workers in all kinds of public services in Europe. Other European or international organisations that support the initiative include the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN), European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF), and Public Services international, EPSU’s sister organisation at global level. At national level, there are many more organisations supporting this ECI”.

The rightfulness of the petition is more than obvious. The idea that the distribution of water may be the means for some to become rich or control the well-being of others belongs to prehistory. Well organised societies have always being taking good care of water supply and sanitation themselves through highly specialised public bodies.

Never in history, water distribution in well organised cities became a source of private enrichment. The reason is very simple. Since there is no substitute to water, its distribution is the “definition” of monopoly and those who control it control the city. That is why only in abnormal circumstances water supply is not run by the city itself.

Unfortunately, some distorted minds, theorising about liberal economics came to the conclusion that everything, even water distribution, can be privatised. They forgot to say that before economic theory there is LOGIC. You cannot bestow to some private individuals the means to hold hostage entire cities or regions. It is true that water sellers have being a traditional profession throughout history. History teaches us, however, that they never came to control the organised infrastructure of water distribution. Evidently, any attempt to control the water distribution, especially in our big urban conglomerates, must be treated as a crime against society.

Given, however, that private profiteering doesn’t recognise logical limits, there is nowadays a lot of water supply and distribution privatisations schemes going on all over Europe. From Paris to Athens and from London to Prague there a lot of serious discussions take place for more privatisations plans. They are serious not because they are logical, but just because politicians accept to seriously discuss those prospects.

The money involved would convince any impartial observer, that much of it is used “in advance”. The entire operation seems like trying to enact a scheme to blackmail entire societies. Whatever controls and limits are set to private operators of water distribution, the fact remains that they are given the right to control a non-substitutable good, water.

Returning to the Right2Water initiative, in three months we will test the value of the European Treaties and more precisely the provision of the Lisbon Treaty about the ECI. The institutional tool to make good use of this EU Treaty provision will be the European Commission, with its great discretionary powers.

The Vice-President of the Commission Maroš Šefčovič in welcoming the Right2Water petition said: “First of all, I would like to congratulate the organisers. Although the signatures will need to be verified, collecting 1 million signatures in fewer than six months is a real achievement. The goal of European Citizens’ Initiatives is to spark pan-European debates on issues that concern citizens across Europe, and get those issues onto the EU agenda. Right2Water has certainly achieved that.”

It remains to be seen how the Commission is to make good use of this ECI and put a really democratic institution at work. Presumably, many citizens believe that the Commission open deliberately the ECI on April Fools’ Day. We expect the Commission to silence them with concrete actions.

The fact remains, though, that the Commission reserves the right of introducing any EU legislation. No other EU institution has this right. If this Right2Water initiative triggers an effective and democratic legislative response from the Commission, then  the existing institutional bodies of the EU, namely the Parliament, the Council and the Commission will increase by one; the one million citizens’ initiative. This can work positively for the entire EU edifice, helping restore its democratic legitimisation.

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