Organisers of the “Right2Water” campaign urged the EU Commission to guarantee access to water and sanitation as a human right, and give a legal undertaking that water services will not be liberalised in the EU, in the first European Parliament debate on a European Citizens’ Initiative in Parliament on Monday. MEPs shared the view that access to water is a basic human right, but some pointed out that rules on providing drinkable water remain the remit of EU member states.
The hearing, organised by the Environment Committee, in association with Development, Internal Market and Petitions committees, brought together representatives of the “Right2Water” Citizens Committee, MEPs and the European Commission, which will draft a response to the initiative by 20 March.
“Parliament recognised that water is a shared resource of humankind and a public good and that access to water should constitute a fundamental and universal right in its the resolution of 3 July 2012 on the implementation of EU water legislation”, but “We need to do more to foster the participation of all actors of our society to make sure that the protection of water resources and of drinking water in particular is reflected into all our policies” said Environment Committee chair Matthias Groote (S&D, DE).
« We launched this initiative to get it on to the European Commission’s agenda. We wish to reiterate here that water provision and sanitation are essential public services for all » said Right2Water Citizens’ Committee chair Anne-Marie Perret. « It is important that citizens should be able to pay reasonable rates reflecting their needs, not those of distribution company shareholders. Today, they no longer hesitate to cut off the water of families in difficulty », she added.
“A milestone in the history of European democracy”
Hailing the first-ever hearing on a Citizens’ Initiative as “a milestone in the history of European democracy” Gerald Häfner (Greens/EFA, DE), of the Petitions Committee said “Today, we are switching to listening mode. The question now is how we can better legislate on an issue that is crucial. Water is a human right and should remain in public hands”.
« We are living in year one of the citizens’ democracy in Europe » said Corinne Lepage (ALDE, FR). « To listen is good, but to heed is better. The Commission absolutely must heed the ECI. We note its wish to pursue the route of liberalisation, which is not what citizens want”, she added.
« Not something you can shrug off »
« We ask for a clear legislative commitment that water services will not be liberalized in the European Union” said Citizens’ Committee Vice-President Jan Willem Goudriaan. “We shall have a reason to celebrate when the European Commission acts to show that the ECI is not something that you can just shrug off”, he added.
Water services, public or not: a matter for member states…
« Water should be accessible and affordable for all.” said MEP Richard Seeber (EPP, AT). “However this is organised, should be left to Member States”, he added.
…but also trade negotiations and “Troika” adjustment measures
Evelyne Gebhardt (S&D, DE) agreed that water should not be governed by market rules and voiced concerns that trade negotiations under way between the EU and third countries could lead to liberalisation through the back door.
Nikolaos Chountis (GUE/NGL, EL) stressed the citizens’ opposition to « attempted privatisation » of water distribution in Athens and Thessalonika, among the measures allegedly imposed by the ECB/European Commission/IMF “Troika”.
“Water issues can create or exacerbate conflicts” in the world
“There is a very long way to go before the universal human right to safe water and sanitation will be universally enjoyed” said Michèle Striffler (EPP, FR), of the Development Committee. “Ensuring sustainable access to safe drinking water, as well as basic sanitation for all is, among other things, good conflict prevention policy."
“Citizens have shown a very clear proof that this instrument of participatory democracy works, that they would like to have a direct say and to communicate with EU institutions on how its agenda should be shaped” said European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič.
In the chair : Matthias Groote (S&D, DE)