Achieving the support of almost 1,500,000 EU citizens, campaign platform “Water is a human right” (right2water.eu) achieved a remarkable feat: Commissioner Michel Barmier for Internal Markets and Services announced that the EC will exclude water services from its Concessions Directive.
“I fully understand why citizens are both angry and upset when they are told their water services might be privatised against their will. I would feel the same if there was such a risk. It has led to the first European citizens' initiative and 1.5 million people signing a petition on water. Despite all the changes to the legal text, and the contributions from all political parties in the European Parliament and the Council, it is my judgment that the text we now have relating to water is not satisfactory for anyone: it does not provide the reassurances that citizens expect and it creates fragmentation in the single market”, stated Commissioner Barnier.
One of the aims of the EC’s 2011 proposal for a directive on the award of concession contracts was “[t]o ensure a real opening up of the market and a fair balance in the application of concession award rules in the water, energy, transport and postal services sectors”.
Sparked by the European Commission’s pressure on crisis-stricken member states to proceed with the privatisation of their now municipal water services, a coalition of NGOs and citizens groups addressed Economic Commissioner Olli Rehn in May 2011, asking the Commission to withdraw from such demands. In a September 2012 reply from the Commission, ECFIN’s desk officer for Greece replied that “...privatisation of public companies contributes to the reduction of public debt, as well as to the reduction of subsidies, other transfers or state guarantees to state owned enterprises......The Commission believes that the privatisation of public utilities, including water supply firms, can deliver benefits to the society, when carefully made.”
Earlier in 2013, Commissioners Barnier (MARKT) and Janez Potocnik (ENV) issued a common statement saying that “[t]he Commission has a neutral position on the public or private ownership of water resources”.
Campaign platform right2water.eu was launched in May 2012 and has been listed as a European Citizens Initiative in the European Commission’s register, under the 211/2011 Citizens Initiative Regulation.