Report of the "EU water policy" workshop by the EWM during the ESU 2022

The European Water Movement (EWM) was at the 2022 European Summer University of Social Movements (ESU) in Mönchengladbach forging ties with European organisations.

The ESU held in Germany, Mönchengladbach, from 17th to 21st of August, 2022, was a very engaging event where hundreds of activists from social movements in Europe and other parts of the world shared experiences, ideas, initiatives for a different world. In this context we as the EWM presented and discussed two workshops on water, a commons presently under threat of liberistic policies of commodification, privatization and appropriation.

ESU plenary picture @ Sigi MF

The first workshop, Water policies in Europe, was held on August 18th.

We start conceptualising water as a commons. Water shapes societies but it is also a source of conflict depending on how it is understood. This is why the framework of the commons enables appropriate management capable of resolving conflicts.

Water as a common good implies the need for regulations through community decision rules to avoid situations of abuse, depletion or overexploitation. And this communal regulation with democratic decision-making mechanisms implies strong, transparent, open and participatory governance where all water users from the community in question have a place. And this governance must be carried out by the public authorities and the users that make up the community so the decisions are taken to revert to the common interest. It makes no sense to delegate water governance to actors with particular interests and actors operating outside the community. From this view, it is justified the fact that water is an inalienable good that cannot be subject to commodification.

In contrast, the European Union understands water from a different point of view. Already in 1992, with the Dublin Declaration on Water and Sustainable Development, water was declared as an economic resource. Until the 1980s most water services were publicly managed but with the global neoliberal shift privatisation was introduced as the magic formula through pressure from international financial institutions and the mantra of public debt and inefficiency. Public services goals like accessibility, fairness and equity were replaced by financial efficiency objectives. Within this framework, water governance is considered a technical issue which allows multistakeholderism, especially for the private sector.

The European Commission has tried several times to attempt to national and municipal sovereignty and give power to water corporations. It happened with the attempt to introduce water in the single market or the Troika impositions in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal or Ireland in times of crisis.

For these reasons, the Right2Water campaign was launched in 2012 to collect signatures in order to demand the recognition of the human right to water and protect the common good of water in the European Union, following the indications of the 2010 United Nations General Assembly resolution that recognised water and sanitation as a basic and universal human right. The Right2Water was the first European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) and collect almost 2M signatures.

Thanks to the mobilisation generated the European Water Movement was founded in 2012 in Naples. Since then, we coordinate our grassroots efforts and social movements that work at the local level to raise our demands at the European level. We have been able to generate a global European alliance with international connections. We still look forward to implementing an open, transparent and participatory water governance where water is managed as a common good.

In the workshop we also review the European water policies as they shape water management. At EU level we explained the partial and unsatisfactory EU legislation that didn’t transpose (or did partially) in its normative instances deliberated by UN Recognition of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, or requested by a Right2Water European Citizens’ Initiative and initially approved by the EU Parliament; also we explained the conditioning of EU top institutions by private lobbies.

At national and territorial level we exposed an illustration of the elements for a real public and participative water government and a glance across Europe on experiences of (re)municipalisation of water services and grassroots initiatives;the risk of commodification and privatization of the whole water cycle originated by the Next Generation EU and the related Recovery Plans of the EU Member States.

For a detailed description of the workshop, see the slides of our presentation.

The second workshop, Struggles against the grabbing of water and the pollution of the aquatic ecosystems by private companies in Europe, was held August 19.

See the presentations and the videos in French and German.