Ruling a whole continent should not be easy. Even more complicated when you do it from a city like Brussels, where it is relatively simple to lose track of the reality beyond the “Brussels bubble“, a closed environment crowded by a highly educated, well-paid elite of civil servants, politicians and lobbyists.
A couple of weeks ago, during a debate about water, I had a chat with one of these officials. The European Commission had just published the results of an online public consultation about a piece of legislation that deals with tap water quality. The official, a really nice man, was quite surprised that everybody claimed to have no problems about water access and quality, but lots of people said that there were others who had real trouble. He had never thought that those without access to water or with poor water quality might also experience problems of Internet access. Or they are simply not the target audience of those technical European public consultations that seem to be designed to engage as few people as possible.
This conversation was in my mind last week, while the European Water Movement, of which Food & Water Europe is an active member, organized a protest in Brussels of activists from all over Europe. While standing in front of the Parliament and the Commission, and through many meetings with politicians, we had the chance to confront Brussels-based decision makers with the reality on the ground.
So they could meet María, from the Red Agua Pública in Spain, explaining their huge fight against water poverty, with many families whose water is being cut off for non-payment. Or Yiorgos from Thessaloniki, Greece, explaining how the public water company, whose privatization was blocked, is now introducing exceptions to water tariffs for poor families who can’t afford to pay.
Have those families answered the online consultation from the European Commission? Probably not. That is why we find it so important that decision makers in these concrete grey buildings in Brussels meet the reality in the continent they are governing.
Maria and Yiorgos met with our Irish colleagues struggling against water taxes, and the Portuguese activists from Agua de Todos fighting against water privatization imposed by the European Commission through the Troika. These voices came together to convince the European Parliament and the European Commission to finally listen to their citizens, and not to corporations, and implement the human right to water in Europe.
You can see some pictures of the protest here.