Water is a Right, not a commodity say MEPs


Water is a 'common good' and not a commodity that can be bought and sold, an event in parliament has heard.

The discussion looked at the issue of access to water in Europe, and came ahead of UN world water day on 22 March, which is focused on 'water cooperation'. 

Italian MEP Gianni Pittella, president of the political association Prima Persona which organised the event, said, "The commission and the council of the EU should consider access to drinkable water as a vital right and not just an economic good following the strict rules of the market."

He said that his key message was that "water cannot follow the rules of the internal market. In other words it cannot be privatised".

It was the job of MEPs to support civil society as they seek solutions to the problems of access to water, he added.

The Socialist deputy said, "Water is an essential public service. Water has to be seen as a common therefore its right must be guaranteed to all."

Greens MEP Raül Romeva i Rueda said, "[Water is] one of the issues that I understand is going to be at the core of the failure or the recovery of the European Union as a project."

He added, "We are now confronting one of the aspects which have been fundamental on how some institutions and some of the actors are dealing with the crisis, and how some of those actors are using this crisis as an excuse for implementing what we know is a neo-liberal agenda."

Both MEPs referred to the privatisation of water companies in Greece, and partial privatisation in Spain, at the request of the troika following financial bailouts in the wake of their economic crises.

Romeva i Rueda said that the main problem with this is that the proposals are not "transparent" and come as part of a "hidden agenda".

"The core of everything," he said, "is that we are dealing with water consumers as if they were clients, rather than citizens who have the right to deal with this common good. That to me is crucial - are you citizens or are you simply a client?"

He added, "If you consider water to be something that can be sold, and you consider the citizens to be simply clients of that good…[then] the citizens' rights to access to that common good, is completely exploited."

He said that the perception that simply having a market competition as a way of delivering more efficiency has been proven, in many other sectors, as false.

"We are talking about water, but besides this there are other sectors who are suffering the same, such as energy, fisheries and many others," he said.

"We need to be very clear and even strong when we simply express our condemnation to the direct fact that those policies are creating more inequality within the European Union.

"Which is the opposite of what the European Union is for," he added.

He also highlighted figures that there are one million people living without water and eight million without sanitation, adding "that's a lot of people".

But he said, "Still in this scenario we see some private actors who are trying to make business out of this.

The event was supported by Food & Water Europe, the European federation of public service unions and the European institute of research on water policy.

From the Parliament magazine, by Kayleigh Lewis, 21 March 2013