Water is a human right: the success story of a European Citizens' Initiative

20 Sep 2013
Ref: 57/2013

EU institutions and Member States must ensure that all residents have access to water and sanitation; water supply and the management of water resources must be shielded from liberalisation and not be subject to single market rules. This was the key message of the report on the European Citizens' Initiative on water and sanitation presented yesterday to the plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee.

The European Citizens' Initiative on water and sanitation as a human right is seen as one of the most successful initiatives since the ECI came into force on 1 April 2012. A citizens' initiative, which is an invitation for the EU to legislate in areas within its gift, has to be backed by at least one million EU citizens from at least seven of the 28 Member States.

Guest speaker Carola Fischbach-Pyttel, General Secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), spoke of a resounding success with nearly 1.9 million signatures collected before voting closed on 10 September, achieving almost double the minimum requirement of seven EU countries, as the threshold was exceeded in 13 Member States.

The European Anti-Poverty Network, a leading supporter of the initiative, was represented at the EESC plenary session by Barbara Helfferich, who viewed the success of this particular initiative as crucial for turning the tide of privatisation in Europe.

What is really important now, Ms Fischbach-Pyttel concluded, is the response of the European Commission in terms of specific policy to the voice of European citizens, once the signature validation process is complete and the results have been officially presented.

The position of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on the issue of the right to water has been expressed in several of its most recent opinions, which recommend that water supply and management of water resources should not be subject solely to single market rules, and that water services should be exempted from liberalisation and from the scope of the directive on concessions. 

The EESC has been a staunch supporter of European Citizens' Initiatives (ECI) since their inception. It is working to promote all active ECIs by introducing one initiative at every one of its plenary sessions to raise awareness and increase the visibility of their causes in an on-going effort to bridge the divide between the EU public and European policy makers.

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