Brexit was a real shock here in Brussels. For the first time, a member state decided to leave the club. It was really tempting to expect a reaction, a debate about the role of EU policies in this collective failure. But this European Union captured by big companies and ruled by a dogmatic neoliberal elite keeps doing business as usual. What happened in the last few weeks in Greece was another brutal example.
The Greek parliament passed a piece of legislation that, among other measures, approved the privatization of the public water companies of Athens and Thessaloniki, the main two cities of the country. It was part of the demands from the European institutions in exchange for bailout funding worth 2.8 billion euros.
The story is quite complex. Under conditions imposed by the Troika (which included the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank) to reduce Greece’s debt, public water companies in Athens and Thessaloniki were partially privatized, while the rest of the shares remained at the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF), an entity to sell and make profit out of the Greek public sector. But privatization was stopped thanks to a huge mobilization from Greek society, involving popular referendums, protests and a lot of European and international solidarity. The final victory was a ruling from the Greek Supreme Court that blocked privatization of those water companies on behalf of public health in 2014.
Water privatization came back on the agenda in 2015, as the result of the last agreement imposed by the creditors to the Greek government. After the vote last week, 51 percent of the shares of the water companies will go to a “Super-fund”, a private organization for development. Two representatives of the creditors and three from the Greek government compose its board. But the creditors have veto power. The aim of this “Super-fund” is to create profits that will go 50 percent to pay for the Greek debt, and 50 percent for national development projects. Before, the aim of the water companies was to provide clean water and guarantee sewage treatment. Under this framework, the aim is to generate higher profits to pay for the debt.
The reaction of citizens in the past few days has been amazing. More than 3 million emails were sent to Greek Members of Parliament opposing the measure. Water workers went on strike, and even cut off water in Syriza’s (the party in the Government) offices in Thessaloniki to show them “
Many years of imposed austerity over Greek people slashed their economy by 25 percent and left one in four Greeks unemployed. Meanwhile, the “investors” can’t wait to profit off of the situation, in what they call “some serious investment opportunities”. This is what democracy looks like in the European Union in times of austerity, where the establishment imposes their neoliberal agenda over any democratic and legal principles.
The battle over Greek water is not over. The tide has changed, and citizens do not accept imposed privatization of a common good and a human right anymore. Our Greek colleagues from the European Water Movement are preparing their reaction and getting ready for a long fight. And the result is going to be key for the future of Europe after Brexit. Will it be a Europe for citizens, or a Europe for corporations? Stay tuned!