September 25th, 2012

The First European Citizens’ Initiative: Water is a Human Right


By Gabriella Zanzanaini

Update: On the 10 December 2012, mayors from Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Genoa, Ghent, Leicester, Nantes, Naples, Paris and Vienna have joined forces with civil society and trade union campaigners to call for the implementation of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation into European Law.


Have you heard of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)? It’s a new tool launched by the European Commission to help citizens play a more active role in European political processes. Available since April 2012, it enables citizens to put an issue on the political agenda through an “ECI,” which involves collecting 1 million signatures from at least seven different EU Member States.

Not only do you need 1 million signatures, but an ECI has to be organised by at least seven people from seven different EU Member States. This group forms a so-called citizens’ committee, which is in charge of proposing the ECI and collecting signatures.

The first ECI approved by the European Commission is on the human right to water. Led by the European Public Services Federation, the citizens’ committee is formed largely by public service trade unions and supported by a broad variety of organizations working on implementation of the human right to water.

Food & Water Europe is working to support and promote this ECI because governments in the EU have to meet their obligation to provide water and sanitation services to all. The human right to water and sanitation means that all people are entitled to clean and safe water and sanitation. These services must be available, accessible, affordable and acceptable for the people. Currently, the criteria for clean and safe water and sanitation differ widely among and even within countries.

Sometimes governments think that markets will provide these services, and they choose to leave it to market forces. But this only changes the way in which the services are provided. Implementing the human right to water and sanitation means that governments have to ensure that these services are available, accessible, affordable and acceptable to all people. They can only do that by ensuring/guaranteeing this by law.

Proponents of a market approach always promise cheaper and better services. But reality shows that this generally means better and cheaper services for the rich, and worse and more expensive services for the poor. Competition means that water companies have to invest in marketing, advertising and the act of competing itself, meaning that all this money is not then invested into the services they are supposed to be providing.

At this moment, an estimated 2 million people in Europe still lack proper water or sanitation. And many more people with low incomes are threatened with disconnection because they cannot afford to pay their bills.

The European Commission should stop its constant push for liberalisation of water and sanitation services. “No money, no water” is what a market for water services means. This is why Food & Water Europe is fighting for public, participatory water services in the EU. Join us in the fight to get the human right to water recognised in European legislation, and sign the ECI.

All citizens that have a right to vote in one of the 27 EU Member States can sign.

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