The European Parliament Fails to Support the Human Right to Water

Brussels – In a vote in the Plenary in Strasbourg this afternoon, the European Parliament has failed to support the implementation of the Human Right to Water in the European Union. The vote on the Directive on the Quality of Water for Human Consumption watered down the measures proposed by the European Commission to ensure access to water for all in the EU.

David Sánchez from Food & Water Europe said in response: “Conservative parties at the European Parliament ignored, once again, the demands of the nearly two million citizens that supported the European Citizens’ Initiative for the Human Right to Water. The proposal from the European Commission was already weak, and today it has been watered down by the right-wing majority at the European Parliament.”

On the positive side, the European Parliament managed to pass some measures to tackle plastic pollution avoiding bottled water use by ensuring the provision of free tap water in public buildings and administrations, encouraging the installation of public fountains in streets and public spaces, and encouraging the provision of tap water in canteens and restaurants around Europe, although the right-wing majority introduced the possibility of charging a fee for it.

“We ask EU governments to improve this legislation in the Council. European citizens will watch closely the negotiations that will take place in the coming months to ensure that their voice is heard and that the human right to water is really implemented,” added Sánchez.


David Sánchez, Food & Water Europe, +32 (0) 485 842 604, dsanchez(at)

European Water Movement – Food & Water Europe – Wasser in Bürgerhand 

The European Commission once again disappoints citizens that supported the Initiative for the Right to Water

Brussels, 31st January 2018. Today European water advocates said the leaked proposal for a new Drinking Water Directive is disappointing and doesn’t meet the expectations of the citizens and organisations that supported the first successful European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) on the right to water. The review of this directive was framed by the Commission as their only answer to the ECI. Five years later, this draft doesn’t meet any of the demands supported by nearly two million people.

Elisabetta Cangelosi, member of the European Water Movement said, “Five years waiting for an answer and the result couldn’t be more disappointing. Although we welcome the timid attempt of the Commission to include provisions about universal access to water and the emphasis on minorities and vulnerable groups, this text has nothing to do with the human right to water recognized by the United Nations and demanded by citizens”.

The Human Right to Water as defined by the United Nations implies that water and sanitation must be physically accessible, safe, acceptable, sufficient and affordable. The draft Drinking Water Directive addressed just the first three aspects.

David Sánchez, director at Food & Water Europe added, “The proposal from the Commission simply ignores the main challenge for the Human Right to Water in the European context, affordability. With thousands of families having their water cut-off in Europe in recent years for not being able to pay the bills, guaranteeing access is not enough. We need political courage from the Commission to challenge private companies that make profit out of water management to really implement this human right in Europe”.

The proposal also includes provisions to promote free access to water in public spaces, including public buildings, but it falls short as this provision is not specific about it being tap water.

Jutta Schütz, member of Wasser in Bürgerhand added, “The Commission vague wording allows the interpretation that installing vending machines with bottled water would be enough. We need to close this gap so the Drinking Water Directive is coherent with the efforts to get rid of plastics at the European level such as the Plastics Strategy or the Circular Economy Package, and to challenge this unacceptable, environmentally-damaging industry”.


Elisabetta Cangelosi, European Water Movement, +32 488 08 00 21 (mobile), [email protected]

David Sánchez, Food & Water Europe, +32 (0) 485 842 604 (mobile), dsanchez(at)

Jutta Schütz, Wasser in Bürgerhand, +49 (0) 157 390 808 39 (mobile), [email protected]

The European Water Movement is an open, inclusive and pluralistic network whose goal is to reinforce the recognition of water as a commons and as a fundamental universal right.


European Public Service Union – Food & Water Europe – European Water Movement


Trade Unions and Civil Society Welcome the Introduction of the Human Right to Water into the Constitution of Slovenia

foodandwatereuropesloveniawaterBrussels, 18 November 2016 – Last night the National Assembly of Slovenia passed an amendment to its Constitution to include a new article that recognizes the Human Right to Water. The amendment affirms water should be treated as a public good managed by the state, not as a commodity, and that drinking water must be supplied by the public sector in a non-for-profit basis. It is a great success for Slovenian activists  and people.

“Citizens from across the EU and Europe have successfully mobilized to have the right to water and sanitation recognized as a human right – as decided by the United Nations – and have this put into EU law. The European Commission continues to ignore nearly two million voices of the first ever successful European Citizens Initiative. Commissioner Vella should listen to citizens and follow the Slovenian example as soon as possible,” said Jan Willem Goudriaan, EPSU General Secretary.

Water is a controversial topic in Slovenia, as foreign companies from the food and beverage industry are buying rights to a large amount of local water resources. The Slovenian government has raised concerns about the impacts of free trade agreements like CETA (between Canada and the European Union) in its capacity to control and regulate these resources (1).

“Trade agreements and investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms can limit the ability of states to take back public control over water resources when foreign investors are involved, as it is the case in Slovenia. To guarantee the right to water and the control over this key resource, the European and the Slovenian Parliaments should reject CETA when it comes to a vote in the coming months,” said David Sánchez, Director of Food & Water Europe.

The amendment is the result of a citizens’ initiative that collected 51.000 signatures to propose a constitutional amendment (2).

‘We welcome the introduction of the human right to water in the Slovenian constitution, as the great result of a citizens’ initiative. Now civil society should be vigilant to guarantee a democratic and transparent management of the integrated water cycle founded in the participation of citizens and workers,” said Jutta Schütz, speakperson at the European Water Movement.



  • The Slovenian government raised concerns about the ambiguity of terms like “commercial use of a water source” in CETA, how the agreement applies to existing water rights and the future ability of national governments to put limits on concessions already granted without being subject to claim under ICS, among others.


Jutta Schütz, Speakperson, European Water Movement, +49 (0) 157 390 808 39 (mobile), [email protected]

David Sánchez, Director, Food & Water Europe, +32 (0) 2893 1045 (land), +32 (0) 485 842 604 (mobile), dsanchez(at)

Guillaume Durivaux, Policy officer, EPSU, +32 (0) 22501041, [email protected]




Trading Away Public Water: Trade Negotiations and Water Services


WaterCommon Resources

Even as we are still resisting the last one, pushed by the European Commission through the Troika (together with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), we are facing another huge risk from new trade agreements that the EU is negotiating at a multilateral scale. The most important and worrying are the nearly finished Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, also known as TAFTA) with the United States; and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), negotiated among 50 countries.

Where Do These Treaties Stand?

The first round of negotiations between the United States and the EU took place in July 2013. The TTIP is not a traditional trade agreement aimed at reducing tariffs on imports. Both sides recognise that the main target is to remove “regulatory barriers”, which would include an attack on social and environmental standards and regulation. Another primary objective is to create new markets by opening up public services and public procurement contracts to competition from transnational corporations.

The negotiations for a trade agreement between the EU and Canada were launched in 2009, and they concluded in August 2014. The text includes chapters on regulatory co-operation, food and consumer product standards, technical barriers to trade, public procurement, trade in services and investment protection. The agreement still has to go through the approval process by both parties.

TISA is being negotiated by a self-selected group of 23 governments representing 50 countries, including the United States and the EU. These countries represent more than two thirds of global trade in services. Talks began in 2012, outside of the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework. The negotiations aim to allow foreign corporations the same access to domestic markets at “no less favourable” conditions than domestic companies. At the same time, the agreement could block local governments’ attempts to regulate, purchase and provide services.

What Are the Risks for Public Water?

Trade and investment protection agreements normally do not deal directly with how public administration is organised. But rules for international trade in services can have an impact on organisational autonomy in the area of water supply and sanitation. In this regard, the new wave of trade agreements tries to go further than previous negotiations. Trade agreements are so broad and complex that it is difficult to analyse every possible impact on public water management. Professor Markus Krajewski, from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, explains the risks from the TTIP in a legal opinion for the German Association of Local Utilities. Most of these risks can be applied to the other ongoing free trade negotiations.

Market-access commitments

Market-access commitments aim to prohibit or limit local monopolies, exclusive service suppliers or certain other economic criteria. For example, a law that allows only publicly owned monopolies to provide municipal water and sanitation, and that excludes public-private partnerships (PPPs), could be viewed as a restriction of market access. When negotiating market-access commitments, there are two possibilities. Under the “positive list approach”, all of the services that both parties want to include in the agreement must be listed. This is the EU’s traditional approach, and it would mean that water would be included in the agreement only if it is listed. But the TTIP likely will use a “negative list approach”, as the United States has done since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, which came into force in 1994), and which the EU and Canada have used in negotiating CETA. Under this approach, everything that is not listed is affected by the treaty (this is known as “list it or lose it”). There are two annexes where you can list exemptions: Annex I, for measures (laws or administrative practices) that violate obligations of the treaty, and Annex II, to include existing and future measures. One of the most important effects of these trade agreements is that once a sector is liberalised, there is no way back (this is known as the “ratchet mechanism”). Changes are allowed only if they are less restrictive than the measure listed. So, for example, when a country includes a publicly owned local water monopoly as an exemption in Annex I, if a local government decides to privatise it, it will not be able to reverse this decision later. This would block the possibility of re-municipalising the provision of water services, a powerful trend that more than 180 cities have pursued in recent years. To be able to retain regulatory and organisational autonomy, water should be listed in Annex II, as a horizontal exception for public services. But even in that case, the term chosen should capture water supply and sanitation, so that water companies cannot be challenged. The EU normally uses the term “public utilities”. Other terms like “environmental services” include sanitation, but not the supply of drinking water.

Competition, State-owned companies and public procurement

The TTIP also may include chapters on competition and state aid. Some leaked documents show that the EU would like to insert into the agreement provisions on state-owned companies (possible including local companies) and companies with special and exclusive rights. In addition, the EU would like to insert a chapter on public procurement. In line with the General Procurement Agreement negotiated at the WTO in 2012, it is possible that the EU might want to include new areas, such as service concessions or PPPs. As a result of public pressure from the European Citizens’ Initiative on the Human Right to Water, water was excluded from the EU Concessions Directive, on a temporarily basis. If the TTIP creates new obligations, big water companies will lobby strongly to re-insert water back into the directive.

Investor-state dispute settlement

Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) is one of the most worrying aspects of this latest wave of trade agreements. Under this mechanism, foreign companies can use private tribunals to sue governments if they deem that their profits or investment potentials are being affected by new laws or changes in policy. ISDS gives companies the power to contest — and potentially reverse — government decisions, and to seek compensation, possibly in the millions of Euros. Around the world, big businesses already have used the ISDS provisions in trade and investment agreements to claim dizzying sums in compensation against democratically enacted laws to protect the public interest. Reports show that European taxpayers have paid more than €3.5 billion to private investors due to similar clauses in previous trade and investment agreements. Argentina, meanwhile, has lost three cases against international investors when the country sought to take back water companies into public hands. Argentina had to pay $105 million to Vivendi (now Veolia) after authorities terminated Vivendi’s contract to supply water to Tucumán province when the company increased water rates by 104% and failed to invest adequately in the system, resulting in low water quality. Argentina also lost a case against Azurix (an Enron subsidiary) and had to pay the company $165 million when a water workers’ co-operative took over drinking and wastewater services in Buenos Aires Province after the company withdrew from the contract. Argentina lost a third case against Suez, AGBAR and Vivendi after the city of Buenos Aires opted to re-municipalise its water company because of concerns about water quality, lack of wastewater treatment and mounting tariffs. At a time when public authorities are increasingly regaining control over previously privatised water services, ISDS presents a serious threat. ISDS is included in CETA, the TISA and the TTIP, and is one of the most controversial chapters. For the TTIP alone, the European Commission received 150,000 replies to a public consultation about ISDS.

Is Water on the Negotiation Table?

Actually, it is impossible for the public to know exactly what is being negotiated in these agreements. CETA negotiations were completely secret, and the text was published only as a final document, in September 2014. The TTIP also is being negotiated behind closed doors, and more than 150 civil society groups on both sides of the Atlantic have denounced its absolute lack of transparency. Even the European Ombudsman has opened a consultation about transparency and public participation in the negotiations. In response to public pressure, the European Commission has announced its commitment to “open the windows”, in a move that is clearly not sufficient to guarantee real civil society engagement and an informed debate. The same secrecy applies to the TISA negotiations. The European Commission’s official position is that, “the EU has no intention of negotiating the right of local governments to provide public services such as the water supply” But in recent years, this official “neutral position” of the European Commission with regard to water management has shown to be not true. The Commission, as part of the Troika, has admitted that it imposes water privatisation conditionalities as part of its “rescue” package to countries affected by the crisis. Moreover, in its response to the European Citizens’ Initiative on the Human Right to Water, which collected nearly 2 million signatures across Europe, the European Commission lost an important opportunity to explicitly exclude water from the TTIP negotiations. Based on a preliminary version of the TTIP services offer from the EU, which was leaked in June 2014, drinking water services seem to be excluded, although sanitation and other water services remain within the scope of the agreement. The European Commission continues to deny that public services are on the table, but the lack of transparency and the experiences with other trade agreements are not reassuring. Moreover, analysis from trade unions shows that the existing public service exemptions in previous trade agreements have limitations, particularly in their scope and level of protection. This is in part because of the lack of legal and conceptual clarity, but also because the agreements do not seem to be flexible enough to accommodate changing political and social approaches towards public services. In general, the existing provisions do not offer public services a sufficient level of protection from the impact of the obligations of trade agreements.

Lessons Learned From CETA

During early negotiations for CETA, leaked texts showed that the EU wanted the treaty to cover all water services, including drinking water, as it had done in previous trade negotiations. In another leaked document, Canada’s offer showed that water services were not excluded from the negotiations. The final text of the agreement, leaked in August by a German TV station and analysed by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, explicitly exempts water resources from CETA. With limited exceptions, however, the agreement treats water like any other tradable good, and the delivery of water like any other commercial service. After consider¬able public pressure to exclude water services from the agreement, Canada and the EU have taken broad Annex II reservations for market access and na¬tional treatment obligations with respect to the collection, purification and distribution of water. In practice, this means that Canadian and EU governments, including municipalities, are free to privatise or partially privatise public water systems as they see fit. But they are less free to re-municipalise those private services in the future if service levels are inadequate or if the private service becomes too expensive. The market-access reservation would give governments the ability to re-instate public monop¬olies, but investors have new rights to challenge the same decision through private investment tribunals. Another threat to public water comes from CETA’s procurement chapter. The commitments as they appear in the leaked text are confusing and ambiguous, but on the Canadian side, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives contends that at least some water services by local governments and utilities are covered. This will likely give private water compan¬ies a “foot in the door” to establish and expand the private delivery of what should be a universal right: affordable, publicly delivered water and sanitation services.


The experience with CETA shows that despite politicians denying it, water was on the negotiation table. It also proves that broad public mobilisation can stop the worst impacts of such an agreement. But even when civil society manages to keep sensitive sectors like water out of an agreement, it is extremely hard to block all the possible damage that such treaties can mean for a model of public and democratic water management. With CETA in the process of being approved (or not) and the TTIP and the TISA under negotiation, this new wave of trade agreements represents a major threat to many of the victories that civil society has achieved in the last few decades. Keeping and recovering public water management and making the human right to water a reality are key reasons to campaign against these free trade agreements.

Get the endnotes with the .pdf.


Borrowing Trouble: Water Privatization Is a False Solution for Municipal Budget Shortfalls


WaterCommon Resources

See Food & Water Watch's report


See Food & Water Watch’s Report

Water privatization is not a real solution to government financial challenges. It is a one-shot ploy that masks the underlying problems and that delays the hard decisions necessary for real fiscal sustainability. Instead of reducing public bills or mitigating the financial burden on taxpayers, it increases the long-term costs borne by households and local businesses.The 2008 global financial crisis left many governments around the world with serious fiscal challenges. Eroded tax bases and growing health and retirement costs created or worsened local budget deficits across the United States, and a sovereign debt crisis rattled the European Union. Instead of confronting these problems head-on, a number of public officials across the globe sought to lease or sell public water and sewer systems to fund ongoing government functions or to pay down liabilities. That is, they have tried to use water privatization to create the illusion of having balanced the budget, when in fact they are just digging the hole deeper. 

The government’s primary objective in these privatization arrangements is to obtain a sizable upfront payment from the company or consortium that takes over the water or sewer system, often as a desperate response to a fiscal crisis. As a consequence, governments usually award contracts to the bidder that offers them the most money, instead of selecting the highest-quality or least-expensive option for households and local businesses. 

This money is not free; rather, it should be thought of as a loan. Residents and local businesses will have to repay it, with interest, through their water bills. In a 1997 report about wastewater privatization, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said as much: “In summary, any payments a local government receives from the sale or lease of a wastewater infrastructure asset represent a loan from the buyer or lessee which must be repaid with interest by the wastewater users in the form of additional user fees.”

Public-Public Partnerships: An Alternative Model to Leverage the Capacity of Municipal Water Utilities

Read the full report.


Clean drinking water and wastewater treatment are basic services that societies and governments provide. Water is a necessity for life, and safe water and sanitation are crucial for public health. In July 2010, the United Nations declared access to clean water and sanitation to be a human right. But recognizing the human right to water does not explain how to deliver this right to households. Even with this commitment to enhance water delivery and safety, an estimated 884 million people worldwide lack access to safe water, and 2.6 billion lack access to improved sanitation. Meeting this need requires significant investments in infrastructure and expertise. In the last 20 years, major multinational efforts have relied on private sector strategies in both developed and developing countries to provide water. These approaches have included encouraging public- private partnerships (PPPs) between public water utilities and private water companies.

Proponents of privatization promised increased investment and efficiency, but privatization has failed to meet these expectations. Instead, it often has led to deteriorating infrastructure, service disruptions and higher prices for poorer service.

A different model, called public-public partner- ships (PUPs), can be a more effective method for providing services. In contrast to privatization, which puts public needs into the hands of profit- seeking corporations, PUPs bring together public officials, workers and communities to provide better service for all users more efficiently.PUPs allow two or more public water utilities or non-governmental organizations to join forces and leverage their shared capacities. PUPs allow multiple public utilities to pool resources, buying power and technical expertise. The benefits of scale and shared resources can deliver higher public efficiencies and lower costs.

These public partnerships, whether domestic or international, improve and promote public delivery of water through sharing best practices. The partnerships can take many forms and may include networks of public water operators in different areas or non-governmental organiza- tions. As a public collaboration, no PUP partner can generate a profit through the partnership. In short, PUPs provide the collaborative advantages of private partnerships without the profit-extracting focus of private operators, and they promote the public interest mission of equitably delivering water services.

Although PUPs can be used for many public func- tions, including roads and electricity, they have particular applicability to water. Access to safe drinking water varies widely across the globe. The United Nations Millennium Declaration aimed to “halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water.” To meet that ambitious goal, more than a billion people will need to gain access to safe water and sanita- tion by 2015.

This tremendous undertaking will require both international cooperation and atten- tion to local needs. Public-public partnerships are uniquely suited to this task. The reason that PUPs work so well is that they retain local, public control of existing water systems. Public utilities are responsible for most water and wastewater services worldwide. In 2010, only about 12 percent of the world’s population had water or sewer service that was priva- tized in some way. The nature of water service as a public good and natural monopoly favors the public administration of water systems.