Water supply a human right but Greeks to lose their functioning utilities

European Economic and Social Committee: Plenary session of 18-19 September 2013 (EESC photo gallery).

European Economic and Social Committee: Plenary session of 18-19 September 2013 (EESC photo gallery).

Since April 2012, when the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon was actually launched, one of the more successful such efforts was the ECI “on water and sanitation as a human right”. A citizens’ initiative is an invitation for the EU to legislate in areas within its mandate. It has to be backed by at least one million EU citizens from at least seven of the 28 Member States. The initiative on water and sanitation was organised by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), achieving a resounding success with nearly 1.9 million signatures collected before voting closed on 10 September. The threshold was exceeded in 13 Member States.

EU institutions and Member States must ensure now that all residents have access to water and sanitation; water supply and the management of water resources must be shielded from liberalisation and not be subject to single market rules. This was the key message of the report on the European Citizens’ Initiative on water and sanitation presented to the plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee on 20 September.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a consultative body of the European Union committed to European integration. The Committee contributes to strengthening the democratic legitimacy and effectiveness of the European Union by enabling civil society organisations from the Member States to express their views at European level. Its members come from workers and employers’ groups and other various organisations.

Water for all

Carola Fishbach-Pyttel, General Secretary of the EPSU, addressed the plenary session of the EESC and spoke about the water initiative. What is really important now, Fishbach-Pyttel concluded, “is the response of the European Commission in terms of specific policy to the voice of European citizens, once the signature validation process is complete and the results have been officially presented”.

While all those good things were taking place in Brussels, the troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund is currently controlling the Greek economy and imposes a severe austerity programme, that has brought the country to the verge of political and social disintegration. As if this was not enough, the troika is now forcing Greece to privatise the successful water supply and sanitation companies in the two major cities of the country, in Athens (EYDAP) and Thessaloniki (EYATH).

Not for the Greeks

This exogenously imposed policy measure is even more incomprehensible, because both those companies are not losing money. The Greek people, over the years, has endowed them with huge and costly infrastructures, which now pay dividends securing proper and low-cost services. If the private operators take up the control of EYDAP and EYATH, the sure thing to happen is that prices of water and sanitation will increase and the infrastructure will be neglected. This is the obvious way for the private operators to maximise profits.

Both those companies have gone public many years ago and have a record of sound management. Their shares have a very good showing in the Athens stock exchange and there are no noticeable complaints about the quality of services. As a result, they both offer an important stream of annual profits to their largest shareholder, the Greek state. In a respect they are already semi private since a good part of their capital is held by small and big investors.

In this respect the interests of the present shareholders of the two companies will be compromised, if the firms are ‘privatised’ as the troika wants it. In reality this is not a privatisation but a gift, because the eventual buyer will be able to run the companies by acquiring a minority percentage of their capital from the Greek state, at a wholesale price and under obscure procedures, very usual in Greece.

It’s a pity at a time when this very successful citizen’s initiative has been completed and presented, the Greek people to lose their well-endowed and managed water and sanitation companies. Does the Commission and the other two decision-making EU bodies, the Parliament and the Council, accept that?

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