Right2Water initiative: Is the Commission ready to listen to citizens?

European Parliament. Public Hearing on the European Citizens' Initiative 'Right2Water'. (EP Audiovisual Services, 17/2/2014).

European Parliament. Public Hearing on the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Right2Water’. (EP Audiovisual Services, 17/2/2014).

Predictably, the Right2Water campaigners while presenting yesterday in the European Parliament their ‘citizens’ initiative’, met opposition from some MEPs only when they crossed the line of the usual pompous but vacuous words about ‘universal rights’ and laid down their meaningful demand to ban privatization of water supply. It turned out that the organisers of the “Right2Water” campaign, speaking at the legislative, asked the Commission and the Parliament as they have the right, to “guarantee access to water and sanitation as a human right, and give a legal undertaking that water services will not be liberalised in the EU”.

This was the first European Parliament debate on a European Citizens’ Initiative. According to a Press release issued by the Parliament, the legislators shared the view that access to water is a basic human right, “but some pointed out that rules on providing drinkable water remain the remit of EU member states”. The Parliamentary hearing involved the committees of Environment, Development, Internal Market and Petitions.

A mature initiative

The European Commissioner and Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič responsible for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration was present. The Parliament and the Commission are expected to draft a response to the initiative by 20 of March. The ‘right2Water’ citizens’ initiative is the first such action to have completed the authentication and formal requirements course as provided by Regulation (EU) No 211/2011. This Regulation has introduced the “European Citizens’ Initiative” (ECI) as from 1 April 2011.

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 more than 1.9 million signatures collected before voting closed on 10 September 2013. The threshold was exceeded in 13 Member States.

As expected, the organisers of the Right2Water campaign are focusing their action on the request to ban water supply privatization all over the EU. Of course, they share the UN principles calling for the access to water and sanitation to be treated as a basic human right. However, in the EU, during the last decade the burning topic in this activity remains the attempt to pass it from the public responsibility with its historic investments, to the private sector. The usual result is that the privates completely neglect the maintenance of the infrastructure and the networks, and plan to extract the highest possible profit during the time of their contract.

The private operator by definition doesn’t have the slightest motive to spend money on maintenance and development works the life of which will exceed the time horizon of the contract. The fact that water supply is the ‘definition’ of physical monopoly tempts the private contractors to use the water supply also in other peculiar ways. For example, what if they the private company which operates the water supply system in a large city, has or acquires a stake in a water bottling and distribution company?

How democratic is the Commission?

The obvious contradiction between the private interest in general and the absolute monopoly of the water supply and the historic investments realized through time to secure it, have led the Right2Water initiative to focus on the need to ban the privatization of this sector. “We launched this initiative to get it on to the European Commission’s agenda. We wish to reiterate here that water provision and sanitation are essential public services for all”, said Right2Water Citizens’ Committee chair Anne-Marie Perret. “It is important that citizens should be able to pay reasonable rates reflecting their needs, not those of distribution company shareholders. Today, they no longer hesitate to cut off the water of families in difficulty”, she added while presenting the initiative to the Parliament.

However, the competent European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič who was present in the hearing tried to use the whole affair as a public relations occasion. He said that “that this instrument of participatory democracy works”. Unfortunately, this instrument has so far demanded the commitment and the hard word of its organisers, without any indication that their difficult and demanding labour will pay dividends, and Šefčovič knows very well that there is nothing democratic about it.

There is not even the slightest reassurance that the main target of the initiative will be attained. It’s only him who can make it happen and prove that democracy works in the Union, by introducing a draft Regulation with only one article: banning the privatization of the water supply all over the EU. But he won’t do it, not in the last ten months of his term as a Commissioner.

 

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Comments

  1. A group of thugs petitioning a group of criminals, and meanwhile the producers in our civilization are the victims. What a sick world.

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