February 18th, 2011

Berlin Water Referendum Success an Inspiration for Global Water Movement

Increased citizen participation has played a major role in remunicipalizing water and bringing it back under public control.

One year before the Alternative World Water Forum (known by its French acronym FAME) will take place in Marseille 2012, various peoples’ movements around Europe have witnessed landslide victories. Increased citizen participation has played a major role in the issues of water supply management and wastewater treatment, allowing these movements to take giant steps towards remunicipalization, or bringing the water back under public control.

This week we have an inspiring story for you from Berlin, Germany. 12 years ago, almost half (49.9 percent) of the Berlin Water Works (BWB) was privatized under Veolia and RWE. This led to price increase of 35 percent, one of the highest of any German city. Due to negotiated conditions, the Berlin Senate and the private investors decided to keep these contracts secret. As a result, a peoples’ initiative called the “Berliner Wassertisch” began challenging this and started a citizen’s referendum aimed at obtaining the publication of these contracts.

In a referendum on February 13, 720,000 Berlin citizens (27.5 percent of the population) came out to vote and 98.2 percent of them voted in favor of disclosing the details of privatization contracts. This is the first time a citizen’s initiative in Berlin managed to pass a referendum.

This referendum was preceded by a successful petition in which the “Berliner Wassertisch” collected more than 320,000 signatures. 172,000 signatures were needed for the referendum to be held.

This case is yet more proof that more and more communities are becoming frustrated with the broken promises of water privatization. Claims of lower prices, more transparency, and new jobs never materialized and communities are now seeing the numerous advantages of remunicipalization.

A similar situation can be seen in Italy at a national level as the Forum for Italian Water Movements gets ready to push forward their referendum to overturn a law favoring the privatization of water in Italy. Following the successful petition where more than 1.4 million Italian citizens signed to regain control of their water resources, a march will be take place in Rome on March 26 to encourage more people to use their voting right in the referendum taking place from April to May 2011. More than 25 million people will need to vote for the referendum to pass.

This is the first time in Italy that a “forum of citizens” has brought forward a referendum without political parties taking the lead. The fight to ensure that water remains a common good mobilizes many people, and it’s a clear sign that the water movement is gaining momentum and will not stop until it succeeds.

We would like to wish our Italian friends the best of luck for their referendum and hope that all these recent examples will have a domino effect all over Europe and around the world as more and more communities fight to take back their right to water.

Join us for the Alternative World Water Forum in Marseille, France in 2012!

-Gabriella Zanzanaini, Food & Water Europe

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