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.

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Tens of Thousands Flood Dublin Demanding Abolition of Austerity Tax On Water

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the Irish capital on Saturday to demand the abolition of a controversial water tax—an austerity measure that protesters say violates the human right to this vital good.

The campaign Right2Water announced in a press statement on Saturday that over 80,000 people from across Ireland took part in the demonstration. The group, whose steering committee organized the rally, had insisted ahead of the event that a big turnout is vital to "send a clear message that we refuse to be bullied and intimidated into acquiescence."

The Dublin rally was the latest mass mobilization in a protracted fight to head off a top-down push to directly charge residents for water use, to satisfy European Union and International Monetary Fund demands.

Beyond declaring that they "won't pay," protesters also seek to take proactive steps to prevent the government from privatizing Ireland's water bureau, Irish Water.

Read more on CommonDreams

Europoly

PRIVATISATION UNDER THE TROIKA - Since the beginning of the Eurozone crisis, countries have to carry out extensive privatisations in return for the Troika's bailout loans. In Portugal and Greece especially, oligarchs, large corporations and investors are making cheap purchases, hoping for huge profits. So begins a gigantic game of Monopoly. But there is one crucial difference to the family board game: the rules of Europoly already state who will win and who will lose. An instruction manual.

THE GAME

The rules of the Troika

This game started in 2010: He who lends money dictates the rules. He who borrows money must adhere to the rules. Before the euro crisis, it was developing countries in particular which had to learn this from international investors, but with the euro crisis Europe too is now affected. In Portugal and Greece especially, everything the state has to offer is being auctioned off under great time pressure: waterworks, banks, beaches, airports, electricity grids, ports, palaces – even mineral springs. The first chapter highlights gamers, rules and the financing.

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Trading Away Public Water: Trade Negotiations and Water Services

Even as we are still resisting the last one, pushed by the European Commission through the Troika (together with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), we are facing another huge risk from new trade agreements that the EU is negotiating at a multilateral scale. The most important and worrying are the nearly finished Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, also known as TAFTA) with the United States; and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), negotiated among 50 countries.

Where Do These Treaties Stand?

TTIP
The first round of negotiations between the United States and the EU took place in July 2013. The TTIP is not a traditional trade agreement aimed at reducing tariffs on imports. Both sides recognise that the main target is to remove “regulatory barriers”, which would include an attack on social and environmental standards and regulation. Another primary objective is to create new markets by opening up public services and public procurement contracts to competition from transnational corporations.

CETA
The negotiations for a trade agreement between the EU and Canada were launched in 2009, and they concluded in August 2014. The text includes chapters on regulatory co-operation, food and consumer product standards, technical barriers to trade, public procurement, trade in services and investment protection. The agreement still has to go through the approval process by both parties.

TISA
TISA is being negotiated by a self-selected group of 23 governments representing 50 countries, including the United States and the EU. These countries represent more than two thirds of global trade in services. Talks began in 2012, outside of the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework. The negotiations aim to allow foreign corporations the same access to domestic markets at “no less favourable” conditions than domestic companies. At the same time, the agreement could block local governments’ attempts to regulate, purchase and provide services.

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Eurozone President and Dutch Finance Minister Dijsselbloem suffers crushing defeat in Greek saga

EPSU press communication

Brussels 30 June 2014 - The privatization of the Greek water companies in Athens and Thessaloniki has been frozen. This was the news reported to the General Assembly of the Thessaloniki water company (EYATH) today. Workers representatives cheered the report that the ongoing privatisation of the public company is in direct conflict with a decision of the Council of State which had decreed that the privatization of the Athens water company sought by the Greek government and welcomed by Eurozone President and Dutch Finance minister Dijsselbloem was illegal. The workers, their union and a broad coalition of social movements had already successfully organized a referendum in which 98% of votes cast of nearly 220.000 people said No to the privatization, 18 May 2014.

A statement of the privatization agency HRADF (or Taiped) said that any future decision of HRADF should respect the Greek constitution and the will of the people. Suez and Mekorot have not submitted any bids yet. This is a sign of the uncertain legal nature and unwillingness to engage in a protracted local battle with trade unions, social movements and politicians, all of whom supported the referendum.

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