The EU Parliament backs the ‘Right2Water’ initiative all the way through

European Parliament. STOA workshop on Sustainable Management of Natural Resources with a focus on water and agriculture, 16/10/2013. (EP Audiovisual Services).

European Parliament. STOA workshop on Sustainable Management of Natural Resources with a focus on water and agriculture, 16/10/2013. (EP Audiovisual Services).

This afternoon the European Parliament is to hold a public hearing on the universal right to clean water, the first such hearing under the European Citizens’ Initiative, which enables the public to ask the EU authorities to table new legislation, provided the initiative is backed by one million people across seven member states. The ‘right2Water’ citizens’ initiative is the first one to have completed the authentication and formal requirements course as provided by Regulation (EU) No 211/2011, entitled “European Citizens’ Initiative” (ECI). This Regulation entered into force on 1 April 2011.

The targets and the reasoning of this initiative will be presented today in the European Parliament by the organisers, after having collected two million verified signatures from supporters, the double than one million required by the Regulation. The hearing is organised by Parliament’s committee for the Environment, in association with the petitions, internal market and consumer protection and development committees. The legislators acted after the European Commission on 20 December 2013 registered the initiative, as having fulfilled all the requirements of the Regulation. The Parliament will provide today a platform for debate with MEPs, the leaders of the ‘Right2Water’ initiative and European Commission representatives.

Two million people

As foreseen by this law, the ‘Rigth2Water’ initiative calls on the Commission to draw up legislation to ensure that all citizens are provided with sufficient and clean drinking water and sanitation. In detail they urge that:
1. the EU institutions and Member States should be obliged to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation,
2. water supply and management of water resources should not to be subject to EU “internal market” rules and water services should be excluded from liberalisation, and
3. the EU should step up its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation.

This is not the first time that the European legislators took action in this field. A European Parliament resolution, drafted by Richard Seeber (EPP, AT) and voted in July 2012 stated that “Water is a shared resource of humankind and a public good. Access to water should constitute a fundamental and universal right”. This resolution also calls on the European Commission and EU Member States to ensure that access to potable water and sanitation is guaranteed as a fundamental human right which is essential for the full enjoyment of life. Another Parliament resolution on the Millennium Development Goals {June 2013, rapporteur Filip Kaczmarek (EPP, PL)} stressed the importance of universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation in the fight against poverty.

No market rules applicable

On that occasion MEPs also rejected efforts to introduce sector-specific single market legislation in the fields of water and waste disposal. As a result the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission all acknowledge the special nature of water as a public good. After intensive three-way talks, they agreed to exclude it from the scope of a directive on the award of concession contracts before Parliament voted for it on 15 January 2014 {rapporteur Philippe Juvin (EPP, FR)}.

Understandably the Parliament will back the ‘Right2Water’ initiative all the way through. The problem remains though that Regulation (EU) No 211/2011 on ‘citizens’ initiative’ doesn’t question the Commission’s discretionary powers when it comes to introducing legislation. As European Sting writer observed on 12 February 2014 “one million EU citizens residing in at least one-quarter of the Member States can ‘invite’ the Commission to submit a proposal for a legal act which “they consider to be required in order to implement the EU Treaties”. It becomes evident that in this affair the Commission can only be ‘invited’ to act and the College will submit a legislative proposal only if the Commissioners are convinced, that this is “required in order to implement the EU Treaties”.

Not to forget that the Commission is the ‘Guardian of the Treaties’. In short the EU’s executive arm retains all its discretionary powers when it comes to introducing laws. It remains to be seen if the sectors of water supply and sanitation will continue to be privatized in the EU, under pressures from Brussels as it happens currently.

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  1. everyone has a right to clean water

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