The EU Commission is lying to the “Right2Water” campaign

European Parliament. Joint meeting of Committee on Development, Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, Committee on Petitions, Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. Presiding , Matthias Groote (S&D, DE). Hearing on citizens' initiative "Right2Water", in the presence of EU Commissioner, Maros Sefcovic (on the right, standing). (EP Audiovisual Services, 17/02/2014).

European Parliament. Joint meeting of Committee on Development, Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, Committee on Petitions, Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. Presiding , Matthias Groote (S&D, DE). Hearing on citizens’ initiative “Right2Water”, in the presence of EU Commissioner, Maros Sefcovic (on the right, standing). (EP Audiovisual Services, 17/02/2014).

As expected, yesterday, the European Commission said ‘yes’ to the very first successful European Citizens’ Initiative, organized by the Right2Water campaigners. A ‘no’ reply was unthinkable, just sixty days ahead of the European election. On 1st April 2011, the EU Regulation No 211/2011, under the title of “European Citizens’ Initiative” (ECI), entered into force. According to it, 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. The first such initiative has now matured and was presented in the European Parliament on 17 February by the organisers, after having collected two million verified signatures from supporters.

The democratic right to water

The organisers of the “Right2Water” campaign are urging the Commission to guarantee access to water and sanitation for all Europeans and give legally binding guarantees that water services will not be liberalised in the EU. “Water is not a commodity, it is part of our heritage,” said Anne-Marie Perret, president of the Right2Water citizens’ committee, speaking at an interview to the EU Parliament’s Press service. She added, “We think the initiative is a step in the right direction, but we need to go further and convince the whole Commission to stop applying internal market and competition rules, which are technocratic, and move towards rules based more on the principles of social justice and democracy.”

On 17 February, the European Parliament organized a hearing, by the Environment Committee, in cooperation with the Development, Internal Market and Petitions committees, which brought together representatives of the “Right2Water” Citizens Committee, many MEPs and the European Commission. On that occasion, the “Parliament recognised that water is a shared resource of humankind and a public good and that access to water should constitute a fundamental and universal right in its the resolution of 3 July 2012 on the implementation of EU water legislation”, but “We need to do more to foster the participation of all actors of our society to make sure that the protection of water resources and of drinking water in particular is reflected into all our policies” said Environment Committee chair Matthias Groote (S&D, DE).

What the campaigners want

« 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» Perret stressed to parliamentarians. « 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.

Yesterday, as expected and planned, the Commission reacted to this fist European citizens’ initiative. The problem is that the EU’s executive argues against the basic demand of organizers of the “Right2Water” campaign, which is nothing less than the ban of privatisations in the sector of water supply and sanitation. The relevant Press release issued yesterday by the Commission states clearly that “The decision on how best to operate water services is firmly in the hands of the public authorities in the Member States, and the Commission will continue to respect Treaty rules requiring the EU to remain neutral on national decisions governing ownership of water undertakings”.

Yet the Commission seems to have the right from the EU Treaty to impose privatisations on member states, in the sectors of production and distribution of electricity. The same is true for the sector of telecommunications and other crucial economic activities. How come the Commission has the right to impose privatisations on member states, while the banning of them to be out of its competencies?

The ‘double talk’

However, 60 days ahead of the European Election, the Commission is very eloquently using its well-known ‘double talk’. This is the time cherished technique in Brussels of saying the opposite of what you mean. In this line of affairs Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said yesterday: “Europe’s citizens have spoken, and today the Commission gave a positive response. Water quality, infrastructure, sanitation and transparency will all benefit – for people in Europe and in developing countries – as a direct result of this first ever exercise in pan-European, citizen-driven democracy. I congratulate the organisers on their achievement.”

However, the main tangible item on the agenda of the “Right2Water” organisers is the banning of the privatization of water supply and sanitation in the EU. Of course they start their texts with the statement that “The EU institutions and Member States are obliged to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation”. Their demand for the ban of privatisations comes right after, “Water supply and management of water resources not be subject to ‘internal market rules’ and that water services are excluded from liberalization”.

Commission imposes privatisations

On top of that, whenever the campaigners they speak publicly, they focus on the banning of privatisations in this sector. Their first demand for the “the right to water and sanitation” is just a way to introduce their cause. In stating this, they follow the UN principles calling for the access to water and sanitation to be treated as a basic human right. Within the EU though this general statement refers to the very limited cases where some remote communities do not have access to water. Consequently, in the realities of the year 2014 in the EU, the most important demand the “Right2Water” campaign has set forth is the ban of privatisations of the water supply.

Yet the Commission is now pushing the Greek government to privatise the two largest public water suppliers of the country, in the Athens basin and the greater area of Thessaloniki EYDAP and EYATH. European sting writer George Pepper wrote on 12 February, “EYDAP and EYATH are two giant, well-organized and mildly profitable companies, controlled by the state. They have already undergone a partial privatization, through their listing in the Athens Stock Exchange and the floating of minority stakes”.

This is not an utmost hypocrisy on the part of the European Commission; it’s a big lie, confirming the allegation about the use of the ‘double talk’. Šefčovič, avoided honestly telling the “Right2Water” campaigners, that the Commission cannot accept their petition and actually works in the opposite direction, imposing the privatizations of two Greek water supply companies EYDAP and EYATH. Instead of that he said the “Commission says yes to first successful European Citizens’ Initiative”. If this isn’t ‘double talk’, then all Europeans have lost any contact with reality and live in the dream the Commission tries to ‘sell’ them. This is a real meta-industrial way of seeing things and politics…

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