European Water Movement's opinion on the vote in the Committee of Environment of the European Parliament on the Right to Water report

The Committee on the Environment of the European Parliament voted on June 25th on a report about the European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation. The European Water Movement, as one of the promoters of the ECI, welcomes the fact that the European Parliament takes a position and calls on the Commission to come forward with legislative proposals to make the human right to water a reality in Europe and beyond. We fully share their concern that nearly two million signatures cannot be ignored if the European Institutions don’t want to widen the huge gap between Brussels-based decisions and European Citizens.

Austerity and water privatization

We welcome the support shown by a majority of the members of the Committee on Environment to water as a public good and the calls to the European Commission to, by no means promote the privatisation of water undertakings in the context of an economic adjustment programme or any other EU procedure of economic policy coordination. Our member groups and allies have been fighting water privatization imposed by the Troika and austerity in Greece, Ireland, Spain or Portugal, so we appreciate the concern showed by MEPs and welcome their calls to the European Commission to remain neutral. Austerity measures cannot be used to force privatisations of public properly working water companies against citizens' will as intended in Greece.

One of the three demands of the ECI was to exclude water from internal market rules, so we thank the MEPs for their support, and we hope that the European Commission takes note of the call to permanently exclude water, sanitation and waste water disposal from internal market rules.

Although we recognize the work of the MEPs involved in the negotiations, we regret the possibility mentioned in the report to concede some management tasks to private initiatives, even under strictly regulated terms, and the mention to Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). PPPs have proved to be a failed model in many cities around the world and it is a model non-compatible with the statement that water is not a commodity, agreed by the MEPs.

Ownership and management of the integrated water cycle should be public, democratic and participatory at a community level. The principles of public participation, full transparency and democratic accountability must be respected. We would like the European Parliament to recognize that the right to good quality water can only be guaranteed under public control.

Implementing the Right to Water and water cut-offs as violations of this Human Right

We highly welcome the rejection by the Committee of water cut-offs and the forced switching-off of the water supply, as MEPs consider them a violation of human rights. In many countries, especially those affected by imposed austerity measures, we are facing a humanitarian crisis that should be addressed by enforcing the right to water into EU legislation.

The European Water Movement would also like to see the Human Right to Water and Sanitation recognized in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. But that will take a long time and, in the meanwhile, many European families just can’t wait. This right should be introduced as soon as possible in the Drinking Water and Water Framework Directive as a first and quick step to tackle water cut-offs due to socioeconomic factors in low-income households to avoid violations of the Human Right to Water as on 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized.

Remunicipalization of water management

The members of the European Water Movement have been actively promoting remunicipalization of water management in many cities around Europe, like Paris, Berlin or Naples, and others to come in the near future as an answer to the unwanted by citizens and failed model of Public-Private Partnerships. Therefore, we appreciate that the MEPs note that growing trend.

Water in trade agreements

As the draft report states, we also consider imperative that water is completely excluded from trade agreements. From TTIP and TISA, but also from CETA. This already finished trade agreement applies to wastewater treatment and many other provisions threaten the model of participatory public water management.

We ask for water to be out of this trade agreements, but we also question the need of such agreements as a whole, as they pose threats not only for water as a commons, but also for environmental or labour standards and our model of society.

Appropriate funding for public water infrastructures and the cost recovery principle

We strongly believe that the Commission and the Member States should support public water companies in the EU which lack the necessary capital to access available EU funding and long-term loans at a preferential interest rate, to renew old infrastructure and to extend water and sanitation services to the poor. And we consider that the European Parliament should encourage water companies to reinvest all economic revenues generated from the water management cycle into maintaining and improving water services and protecting water resources.

We cannot support the mention in the draft report to the principle of cost recovery of water services. “Full cost recovery” as a guiding principle of financing integrated water services in Europe needs to be challenged. Securing access to water and securing funds for investment in extraordinary infrastructures should be achieved as a collective responsibility through general taxation.

Human Right to Water and Sanitation beyond the EU

The Human Right to Water and Sanitation, as recognized by the UN, is universal, and the European Union, as a global actor, should increase its efforts to make it a reality beyond Europe, in a model based in non-for-profit principles and solidarity. We therefore welcome the recognition of public-public partnerships and the demand that EU development policies should fully integrate universal access to water and sanitation. We also share the need of including water, sanitation and hygiene as a priority in the Sustainable Development Goals and the upcoming COP21.

Towards a real water democracy

The participation of citizens and workers in the management of services is a necessary condition for having a new governance model of the commons. Whenever asked, European citizens have shown that they care about water, that they want it managed as a commons in a public and participatory way; and that they want the Human Right to Water to be a reality.

The Plenary vote in September will be watched closely by millions of European citizens that are struggling to stop water cut-offs, campaigning against water privatization and for a better water quality, or those who supported the ECI.

We expect the European Parliament to act accordingly and send a strong and clear signal to the European Commission to act, by supporting in the Plenary the report that was voted in the Committee on the Environment.

European Water Movement
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