Clean water and sanitation should be a human right – available, accessible, and affordable for all – but this can only be achieved if water services are kept in public hands, says union leader
On April 1 the European Federation of Public Service Unions sponsored a European Citizens' Initiative calling for water to be recognised as a human right. On May 10 the European Commission gave its acceptance to start the collection of signatures, acknowledging that is has the competencies to deal with the issue. It makes the initiative the first ever on the extension of human rights at the European Union level.
The ECI is a new direct democracy tool introduced by the Lisbon treaty. It requires the collection of one million signatures in at least seven EU member states. As a democratic instrument it is widely seen as agenda-setting, but the members of this citizens' committee see it as a mobilising tool to ensure that water is kept in public hands and to defend essential public services.
The 'Water is a Human Right' campaign is a initiative of EPSU together with the European Anti-Poverty network, the European Environmental Bureau, the European Public Health Association, Women in Europe for a Common Future, and Aqua Publica Europea, the network of public operators in Europe. The broad nature of the campaign shows how sensitive to all sectors of society this issue is.
The citizens' committee has asked several mayors to support the initiative. In April the mayor of Brussels, Freddy Thielemans, co-organised with us a press release to launch a campaign for support in Europe's cities. Among our backers is the former mayor of Nantes, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is now French prime minister. The citizens' committee will be collecting support from elected representatives to ensure that water is declared a human right.
The human right to water and sanitation means that all people are entitled to have clean and safe water and sanitation. It must be available, accessible, and affordable for the people. With the current economic and financial crisis, and the austerity-only agenda pursued in Europe by almost all governments, we have seen an increase of number of people losing this right, and a push to privatise water companies despite the fact that doing so has been shown to produce no better service or savings for municipalities.
The fairy tale of privatisation, made up by the companies that make the biggest profits on a market, is based on the segmentation of the water cycle. The reality shows that companies in private hands mean better and cheaper services for the rich, but worse and more expensive services for the poor. This is unacceptable. Competition means that water companies have to invest in marketing, advertising and in competing itself – all this money cannot then be invested into the services they are supposed to be providing.
We hope to collect more than a million signatures and we hope to build broad alliances within the civil society. In Italy, Spain or Portugal such alliances exist and trade unions play an important role. Now we want a European water movement for water to be considered as a common good.Anne Marie Perret is president of the European Federation of Public Service Unions and president of the citizens' committee for the right2water campaign