Three years after the Regulation establishing the European citizens’ initiative (ECI) , the "Right2water" initiative was presented on 17 February at a public hearing in the European Parliament. There was a cross-party agreement on the merits of such a positive active movement coming from citizens and so clearly expressing participatory democracy. It is now up to the Commission to come up with a concrete legislative proposal by 20 March 2014.
After having received 1,680,172 valid statements, (with 13 countries having collected the minimum number) representatives of the Citizens’ Committee demanded that the European Commission recognise and implement the right to water and sanitation for all, under EU legislation.
Public hearing in the European Parliament - “A milestone in the history of European democracy”
The Public hearing in the European Parliament was held by the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), in association with the Committee on Petitions (PETI), the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), and the Committee on Development (DEVE). As highlighted by Anne-Marie Perret, president of the Right2Water Citizens’ Committee, this ECI has been highly supported by European civil society. EPHA is one of the leading NGOs that has backed the project since its launch. An exchange of views between representatives of the "Right2Water" Citizens’ Committee, MEPs and the European Commission took place under the chairmanship of Matthias Groote (S & D, ENVI) and were divided under three sections which correspond to the goals of the ECI:
Beyond these it was stressed, several times, that “water must be kept out of Trade Agreements (TAFTA/TTIP)” .
There is no coincidence that the first ever successful ECI focuses on water. Indeed, although it is a vital element for life, water is one of our most threatened resources. Stakeholders conveyed a cross-party message in supporting water as a human right and access to high quality and affordable drinking water for all everywhere, as well as good sanitation services. As poor people are most affected by low quality water and bad sanitation facilities, it is vital that disadvantaged families are not cut off from these essential services. This has never been truer than at the present time, with the current economic crisis merely exacerbating inequalities.
The European citizens’ initiative allows one million EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies, by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. The citizens’ initiative allows EU citizens to participate in shaping EU policy by asking the European Commission to propose legislation in areas that fall within its competence. Based on the observation that the human right to water and sanitation is not recognised in EU legislation, the Right2Water Citizens’ Committee asks the Commission to guarantee access to water and sanitation for all Europeans. This is in line with the UN Resolution 64/292 which explicitly recognises the human right to water and sanitation.
One main concern of the "Right2Water" initiative consists of the liberalisation of water services. According to the Right2Water Citizens’ Committee, as the right to water is a human right, we must move away from the idea that water is a commercial product. Supply and management of water services should be considered as public goods and so stay in public hands. Water cannot become a private resource. The European Union should adopt a non-profit approach, a method based on rights, transparency and consistency rather than on the market. Therefore, the Right2Water Citizens’ Committee asks for a legal binding commitment to not liberalise water services and sanitation. They also ask for excluding water services from Single Market rules and free trade agreements (such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).
The way forward
The next stage in the "Right2Water" initiative will be the examination and evaluation of the project by the Commission, which will then also put together some concrete proposals by 20th March.
“Citizens have clearly shown 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.
The European Union (EU) has high standards in terms of environmental protection policies. By implementing the right to water for all everywhere, the EU will also be a global leader in development and cooperation policy.
(Photo source © pictures taken on the spot )
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