Blog Posts: March 2014

March 21st, 2014

How to Disappoint 1.9 Million Citizens in a Few Minutes

By David Sánchez

For one moment, imagine that you are the Vice President of the European Commission. Citizens all around Europe have collected signatures demanding you to recognize the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in the European Union. This first ever European Citizen’s Initiative to be successful gained support from 1.9 million people. You had three months to discuss with your colleagues what to do about it. You start the press conference, smile to the cameras and speak for a few minutes. You announce that you say yes to the petition but you are aware that you are offering nothing. Finally, you leave the room.

Now imagine that the multinational company that manages water in your city cut off your water supply because you can’t afford to pay the bills. Or imagine that your municipal water supply is about to be privatized. Or maybe you were even involved in the signature collection and invested a lot of your time and efforts on it.

How would you feel in each situation? March 22nd is World Water Day, a good moment to reflect about the huge gap created this week between the announcement of the European Commission and the expectancies of 1.9 million European citizens on the right to water.

But, what is a European Citizen’s Initiative?

The European Citizen’s Initiative is a new democratic tool that tries to allow EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. You “just” need to collect one million signatures coming from at least 7 member states, following a really complicated set of rules and procedures.

And the Right to Water Initiative did it. Nearly 1.9 million signatures were collected with three basic demands: the legal requirement by EU institutions and Member States to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation, a commitment that water supply and management will not be privatized and a commitment to increase EU efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation. These were three clear demands that had nearly no echo in the Commission’s answer.

The European Commission acknowledged the importance of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation and confirmed water as a public good. Which is good, but just words. They didn’t propose any legislation to recognize this right, just a compilation of already ongoing actions plus the announcement of a public consultation on the drinking water directive whose outcomes will not be binding. On the positive side, they committed to promote universal access to water and sanitation in its development policies, including the promotion of public-public partnerships. And that’s a step in the right direction.

But citizens had asked to exclude water and sanitation from what they call “internal market rules,” that is, privatization and liberalization. And the Commission did nothing. Water was excluded temporally, due to strong public opposition, from the last internal market legislation. But the Commission didn’t explicitly exclude these services from the ongoing trade negotiations, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP or TAFTA) with the U.S. or the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada.

The European Water Movement, of which Food & Water Europe is part, stated it quite clearly: this decision implies a bad precedent for this new mechanism of public participation.

Water privatization is still a very concrete menace in many European countries, with the European Commission itself one of the main drivers. As part of the Troika (the tripartite committee composed by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), they are pushing for water privatization in Greece and Portugal, while evidence from public auditing bodies confirms that privatization is detrimental both for local authorities and ordinary citizens. And the reality on the ground shows that when families can’t afford to pay their bills, they are being deprived of access to water by private companies, as happened recently in Jerez, Spain.

Citizens are mobilizing across Europe. Millions of Italians voted against water privatization and local referendums took place in major cities like Madrid and Berlin. Right now citizens of Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, are voting on a popular referendum about the privatization of their water supply. Thessaloniki, in Greece, will vote on May 18. And other cities, like Puerto de Santa Maria, also in Spain, are now mobilized for the same reasons.

Water should be a commons, not a commodity. We must close the gap between citizen’s expectations and EU decisions. We need to keep reminding our politicians of the importance of the right to water before the elections for the European Parliament. And we need to keep it in mind also in the World Water Day.

March 14th, 2014

Three Big Holes in New GMO Report, and a Bigger Question

By Eve Mitchell

Today’s report trumpeting the need to force more food with GMO’s into the UK is as flawed as it is predictable. Here’s my handy guide to spotting the problems:

1. GM* researchers want more GM
Now there’s a surprise. GM cheerleaders in the front line today are Jonathan Jones (whose lab receives millions from the biotech industry), David Baulcombe (a “consultant for Syngenta”), Jim Dunwell (a founder of GM lobby group CropGen who claimed on the radio this morning to have “no stake” in the technology), and a handful of others dependent on the GM bandwagon for their livelihood, many of whom hold (or are part of outfits that own) patents on GM technologies. Shouldn’t those advising the Government be a bit more independent, or at least a little more distant from the profits? Read the full article…

March 12th, 2014

Why I Came to Work for Food & Water Europe

Welcome David!

There is a battle brewing over who owns water. Stay informed about what Food & Water Europe is doing to keep our water safe, affordable and sustainable.

By David Sánchez

Hi there! My name is David Sánchez and I am the new campaign officer at Food & Water Europe here in Brussels. I have already been around for one month, so I guess it is time for me to introduce myself.

My main task will be to work, together with local grassroots movements, for safe, accessible, sustainable public water in the EU. I will also be looking at sustainable food and one of the main threats we are facing, the negotiations for a new EU-US free trade agreement (known as TTIP or TAFTA).

And what is a Spanish guy like me doing in Brussels, “the heart of the beast”? That’s what I wonder when I cycle under the rain (that is, quite often) on my way to the office. I have been interested in nature since I was a kid, so I decided to study environmental sciences at Madrid University. That was at the time when the debate around GMOs was in turmoil, and names like Monsanto where all over the place. Companies patenting life, and releasing risky genetically modified organisms in the environment and our food really led me to environmental activism. After that, I got a Masters degree in Ecology in a Portuguese university, researching the impacts of pollutants like glyphosate (Monsanto again!) on freshwater ecosystems, and then I spent some years working on environmental education.

Then I found myself with the amazing opportunity to coordinate national food and farming campaigns at an environmental NGO. I spent several years campaigning against agrofuels, factory farming and GMOs in Spain, the only country in the EU that grows them on a large scale, working side by side with farmers and consumers against corporate power and for food sovereignty.

Suddenly one day you wake up and, without even noticing it, you are cycling under the rain in Brussels, and you can feel all around you the power and the influence of the army of lobbyist working for transnational companies. Under many different names, you can watch Monsanto, Syngenta, Suez or Veolia maneuvering to increase their profits, while taking away public control over our food and water systems.

One of the main reasons I love Food & Water Europe is because we try to link the grassroots with the EU level. When you are campaigning on the ground, pushing to declare your town as a GM-free area or trying to stop the privatization of your municipal water supply, it is not that easy to connect your struggle with those lobbyists that meet in Brussels. But most of the environmental and consumer protection legislation in Europe is nowadays decided or promoted here.

People fighting in the streets of Spain, Greece or France against water privatization must have their voice heard in Brussels. And shaping EU legislation will help developing the public, democratic and participatory models we want to build.

But don’t leave us alone here under the rain! We need you to connect the dots between the daily local fights and the heart of the beast. I am sure that together we can push for a change in the way water and food are managed in Europe (and globally).

You can contact me at dsanchez(at)fweurope(dot)org. Sign up to stay informed about the work of Food & Water Europe.

The Weakest Link: Problems and Perils of Linking Carbon Markets

FoodandWaterEuropePollutionTradingIssueBriefBy Elizabeth Nussbaumer

Using carbon markets to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is nothing new and hardly effective. However, despite the absence of significant emissions reductions from cap-and-trade initiatives and the all-but-complete collapse of the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), supporters of carbon markets now want to begin linking markets together.

This idea is backed by claims that doing so will increase economic efficiency and allow emissions reductions to happen at a lower cost, but combining many broken pieces does not make an effective whole. In reality, linking provides a way to allow pollution at the lowest cost to polluters.

In January, California and Quebec officially linked their carbon markets. The reasoning behind linking argues that it will allow polluters to purchase emissions reductions credits at the lowest price ­­­— if credits cost less in Quebec, polluters in California can purchase credits on Quebec’s market, ultimately making polluting more affordable. Read the full article…

March 10th, 2014

Stop the U.S. Approval of “Agent Orange” Crops

URGENT: March 11 Deadline for Comments: This is our last chance to stop the U.S. approval of “Agent Orange” crops. Act now.

You know that nasty chemical we heard about from the Vietnam War — Agent Orange? The one that caused so many health problems and birth defects?

If Dow has its way, one of the harsh chemicals in Agent Orange will be sprayed in massive amounts all over the U.S. and on crops bound for Europe.

Dow, a chemical and biotech competitor to Monsanto, has genetically engineered corn and soybeans so that the plants can withstand the application of the chemical 2,4-D, half of the notorious Agent Orange chemical cocktail.

Unfortunately, this nasty chemical is already being used in industrial agriculture, despite its proven detriment to health and the environment. Studies show that 2,4-D messes with your hormones, damages your nervous system, lowers your immunity to illnesses and causes reproductive problems. If these GMO corn and soy crops are approved, more and more agriculture operations in the U.S. will use 2,4-D. This will cause up to a 25-fold increase in the amount sprayed on fields, increasing our exposure and creating more pollution that harms people and animals.

Read the full article…

March 7th, 2014

Natural Gas is Not a Geopolitical Bargaining Chip

By Wenonah Hauter

wenonahIn the battle over the future of U.S. energy policy, the oil and gas industry has presented many bogus justifications for pursuing fracking. Playing on the public’s genuine patriotism, energy independence is trotted out as the most compelling argument.  This rings even more hollow in the current debate about using natural gas as a bargaining chip in the crisis unfolding in the Ukraine

The Obama administration is considering sending fracked gas overseas in what the New York Times recently described as a “lever against Russia” in the escalating tensions in Eastern Europe. This move is clearly a result of influence pedaling by energy companies—an industry so money-grubbing that even tragic geopolitical events are fodder for increasing profits.

Companies like ExxonMobile should not control U.S. foreign policy, and we should not sacrifice communities across the United States for illusory policy objectives that are really about increasing market share for a few energy giants. It is irresponsible to push for more fracking—a process that dramatically increases methane emissions in the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Inserting natural gas into the narrative about the imploding situation in the Ukraine will only lead to more global instability, and in the long run, undermine any national security goals that proponents claim will be achieved.

By this time, our leaders should know that allowing outdated, polluting fossil fuels guide our foreign policy strategies is a bankrupt one.  Pressure on the Obama administration to allow exports of natural gas to commence demonstrates the cynical willingness of the industry to use an international calamity to achieve its long-term policy goals. The arguments in favor of export demonstrate the dishonesty of the oil and gas industry’s claims that fracked gas is the key to U.S. energy independence.

We’re not standing for this, and neither should you. Please join us in telling the Obama administration that we cannot let the escalating crisis in Ukraine become an excuse for more fracking in the United States.

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