Access to good quality water was the topic of the first-ever official hearing held for a European citizens' initiative at the European Parliament on 17 February. The Right2Water campaign wants universal access to clean water and sanitation and opposes the liberalisation of water services. They collected nearly two million signatures in order to ask the European Commission to produce EU legislation on this. We talked to the organisers to find out more.
Organisers of the Right2Water campaign are urging the Commission to guarantee access to water and sanitation for all Europeans and give legaly binding guarantees that water services will not be liberalised in the EU.
"Water is not a commodity, it is part of our heritage," said Anne-Marie Perret, president of the Right2Water citizens' committee. "We think the initiative is a step in the right direction, but we need to go further and convince the whole Commission to stop applying internal market and competition rules, which are technocratic, and move towards rules based more on the principles of social justice and democracy."
Citizens' initiatives give people the chance to ask for new European legislation, provided organisers collect at least one million signatures from all over the EU in support of the plans. Ms Perret said it was important to educate people more on the possibilities the initiatives give them, although she acknowledged that one of the problems was getting enough signatures. “Some of the citizens refused to sign because they had to give their ID number," she said. "There were also big problems with the online signing."
The hearing organised by the environment committee was attended by the Right2Water organisers, MEPs as well as Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, who will draft the official response to the initiative by 20 March.
“I believe the European consensus will work," said Ms Perret after the hearing. "We have to help the Commission shift beyond the sole idea that market is divine. There are also human rights concerning EU citizens that have to be clearly talked about, respected and promoted in order to be protected."
Matthias Groote, a German member of the S&D group and head of the environment committee, chaired the hearing. "During the meeting we could see how important this issue, the human right to water, is," he said, adding that it would have been good to have a representative of the governments present during the hearing.