European Water Movement meeting in Brussels (13-15 April 2023) : Final declaration

On April 13, 14 and 15, a meeting in person was held by the European Water Movement (EWM) in Brussels to analyse the status of implementation of the Right to Water in Europe and establish a line of action towards the current critical situation of water in Europe under the threat of droughts, climate crisis, water grabbing, pollution, as well as commodification and privatization policies. The meeting was attended by over 20 people from 9 countries (Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Serbia, Spain). This event was also an opportunity to meet some MEPs in order to discuss the future of water in Europe, to illustrate some situations at national and regional level, confirming in the meantime the need to guarantee the Human Right to Water and our position in favour of a public governance of water.

Following our letter to MEPs of last April on the 2023 UN Water Conference and the Manifesto on Water Justice addressed to the UN at the aforesaid Conference, EWM demands that the policy on water pursued throughout Europe and in particular by EU institutions, addressing the following priority issues:

  • Urgent need to preserve water resources and the universal right to water in front of environmental emergencies, pollution and conflicts of interest;
  • Public and participative government of the whole water cycle and its incompatibility with present privatization policies.

Their fulfilment is possible only with the adoption of adequate measures, primarily:

  1. Sufficient water in quantity and quality for ensuring access to water and sanitation services and for healthy and sustainable ecosystems. They have priority over other productive uses, including connected waterworks like large basins, and need adoption of measures like limitation and reduction of water consumption by intensive agriculture and bottled water industry; no pollution by the discharge of insufficiently treated sewage; no landfilling of waste (including nuclear) and mining activity that could pollute water bodies; drastic reduction of water networks leakages. Conformance to these priority criteria and implementation of the relative measures could help to better manage conflicts of use aggravated by global warming and droughts as a consequence;
  2. Water treated as an inalienable common good. As a consequence: exclusion of water by any commodification and quotation; public and participative government of water services and of the water cycle; no privatization of water services, water resources and water cycle; their exclusion from liberalization processes and trade agreements; water cycle management undertaken publicly through public funding; right to water and water as inalienable common good included in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

However, in all due respect to these instances, despite some statements in favour of our demands, lack of access to good quality and affordable water and sanitation (water poverty) is still a dailylife experience for millions of European people, further aggravated by current emergencies.

Yet, in front of such a situation that urgently requires a more inclusive, public and participative governance of water, European governments and in particular EU institutions, through the NGEU (NextGeneration EU - European Recovery Plan 2020) and the Member States Recovery Plans, are opening up to private capitals not only the water services, but also the overall water cycle and the water resources. In several cases this policy is accompanied by failure to invest in quality of services, network maintenance and in reduction of water leakage, in contrast with an unacceptable increase of profits and dividends. Moreover in many cases concessions to private subjects for activities with a large impact on available water resources, like waste disposal, mining activities, large basins, intensive agriculture, bottled water industry, subtract to the population the necessary quantity of water and often are accompanied by pollution that compromise their quality.

Quotation of water and its commodification complete this panorama, but, in spite of the serious concerns expressed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and by several institutional and social subjects, they didn’t receive any condemnation nor blame by European institutions.

The European Water Movement confirms its firm commitment against privatization and grabbing of water resources. To this regard it confirms its solidarity and support to all the initiatives and struggles, both local and transnational, in defence of the preservation of water resources and of a public and participative governance of water.

It will continue to strive for water operators completely public in property and in legal status, and for public financing, alternative to private funds, for investments concerning water services, water cycle and preservation of water resources.

Concerning EU legislation and normative on water, EWM reiterates the following requests:

  • official rejection of quotation of water in the Stock Market and declaration of water as inalienable common good not subject to commodification and trade;
  • inclusion of the Right to Water in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights;
  • the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD) must respect the Human Right to water and sanitation and must ensure that the chemical and pharmaceutical industry do not keep polluting our waters;
  • a more complete definition of the right to water by assuring, together with the universal access to water and sanitation services, their affordability, a minimum individual daily quantity of water based on WHO and UN standards, prohibition of water disconnections;
  • exclusion of water from liberalizations and trade agreements.

To conclude, threats to water as a common good and inalienable source of life from the big powers have been denounced by EWM since 2020 in various statements and letters addressed to EU institutions, but we haven’t received any official answer yet. Environmental, political and social emergencies, not last drought, confirm and increase the urgency for a clear position of the EU against free-market policies submitted to private interests and of undertaking immediate measures to tackle water poverty.