The EP Water Group

Another MEP-industry forum in need of investigation

"The Water Group's political expertise has always ensured a strategic approach. Whether on the link between water and biodiversity, the monitoring of the Water Framework Directive, or on the role of the private sector, your group has always been to the fore."

And with this quote the European commissioner for Environment, Maritime affairs, and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, began his speech to the EP Water Group dinner on 18 November 2015. This group is no longer an officially-recognised intergroup (it was during the 2009-2014 legislature) but appears to now be an informal MEP-industry forum and it brings together MEPs, other decision-makers, industry and other 'stakeholders' to discuss matters relating to EU water policy. CEO has recently profiled – and criticised – such forums for the cosy relations between MEPs and big business that they can ferment.

However, more than in many other sectors, big business' involvement in water management is contentious because of the terrible track record of private companies in managing municipal water services and water resources. The 2013 European citizen's initiative (coordinated by EPSU, the European Federation of Public Services Unions) on the right to water attracted the support of nearly two million EU citizens to recognise water as a public good, not a commodity; to promote the provision of water and sanitation as essential public services for all; to ensure that water supply and management of water resources not be subject to ‘internal market rules’; and that water services are excluded from liberalisation.

So by bringing together MEPs and multinational water companies to discuss water issues, the EP Water Group is already on controversial territory.

Read more on the website of CEO

Struggling for Public Water Services in Bucharest

In September 2015 Romanian Anti-Corruption Prosecutors opened a criminal investigation against intermediaries acting on behalf of the private company ApaNova/Veolia, the provider of water services in Bucharest. Bucharest local councillors had allegedly taken bribes in order to approve tariff increases. The documents presented by the prosecutors showed how water prices doubled between 2008 and 2015 (a 125% increase). Further investigation in October and November 2015 led to the direct indictment of the company itself for an alleged tax evasion worth 5 million euro, among other accusations.

Bucharest privatised its water services in 2000 after a 2-year buffer period during which the concession procedure took place. The World Bank and the International Financial Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, acted as consultants. The decision to outsource the sewage and water services occurred in the context of poor water quality and sewage services provided by the then public company, Regie Autonome. This Company required investments of over 1 billion dollars, which the municipality claimed it could not afford to make.

Read more on the website of LeftEast

No Water in the Land of Plenty

The Human Right to Water and Sanitation is still not a reality in Europe. All across the continent there are people living without access to clean water, and many of them are Roma. Europe is home to 10-12 million Roma people.

Since 2014 the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) – an international public interest organisation working to combat anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma – has been conducting research on access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation in Romani neighbourhoods in seven countries. We have focused on analysing problems with accessibility, affordability, and quality of drinking water resources, as well as with sanitation in Romani neighbourhoods and settlements. The research has also examined potential cases of ethnic discrimination in the distribution and availability of these public utilities.

Prior to the ERRC’s research, there was very little information available about access to safe drinking water and sanitation for Romani communities in Europe. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Roma Survey (2011), in many European countries a large proportion of Romani households were still not connected to a piped, public water supply and remained dependent on water whose quality was not tested by the competent public authorities.

Read more on the website of Food & Water Europe

What is the point of a regulator if water companies can overcharge customers £1.2bn?

All we can do is plead for a regulator capable of keeping these voracious private companies under control.

Of all the privatisations carried out in Margaret Thatcher’s time, the one least popular with the public was the sell-off of 10 publicly owned water authorities to private companies. Government ministers defended the sale by explaining that rain did not simply fall from the sky and find its own way to where it was needed. They rightly pointed out that it requires a huge industry to get clean water through the tap into the home or the workplace and to take away dirty water and sewage, clean it, and pump it back again. The argument put forward at the time of privatisation, in 1989, was that private companies could carry out this work more efficiently.

This was a triumph of ideology over common sense. Though it is true that companies that compete in the marketplace have to be more efficient to survive, there is no market pressure on water and sewage companies. The customer cannot choose the supplier. Who they get depends on where they live: if it is Cornwall, it is South West Water; in Wales it is Dwr Cymru; in the North-west of England it is United Utilities, and so on. 

Nor can the customer haggle over price: they pay what the companies charge, or risk having their water supply turned off. To mitigate that problem, the government created Ofwat in 1989, a quango whose job is to set maximum prices and thus protect customers from being fleeced by these monopolies.

Read more on the website of The Independent

Is Cash-Strapped Portugal Using Austerity as an Excuse to Privatise Water?

Water privatisation is once again a topic of debate in Portugal. The subject was recently discussed in the Portuguese parliament, where the leader of the The Greens party, Heloisa Apolonia, accused the government of “withdrawing its promises on the water sector”.

Minister of Environment Jorge Moreira da Silva has assured that authorities will not privatise Águas de Portugal (ADP), the national company that manages water supply in the country. However, the minister is supporting the restructuring of the treatment system and water supply — which includes raising tariffs in the coastal municipalities to reduce prices in the interior of the country — to ensure its “economic and financial sustainability.”

Local councilors fear that this restructuring is a step to privatise this essential commodity in the same way the country's urban waste management company fell into private hands in 2014. The country's high levels of debt put it at the mercy of foreign capital, making it more vulnerable to privatisation.

But the minister has rejected this theory, saying that the reform implemented avoids this scenario. Moreira da Silva says the plan will lead to greater equity in the cost of water across the country.

Read more on the website of GlobalVoice