Brussels, 17th October 2012 – The European Commission is deliberately promoting privatization of water services as one of the conditions being imposed as part of bailouts, it acknowledged in a letter to civil society groups on 26 September 2012. EU Commissioner Olli Rehn's directorate was responding to questions posed in an open letter concerning the European Commission’s role in imposing privatisation through the Troika in Greece, Portugal and other countries. The civil society groups have today written to Commissioner Rehn to demand that he stop “any further pressure to impose water privatisation conditionalities”.
The European Water Movement (EWM) was at the 2022 European Summer University of Social Movements (ESU) in Mönchengladbach forging ties with European organisations.
The ESU held in Germany, Mönchengladbach, from 17th to 21st of August, 2022, was a very engaging event where hundreds of activists from social movements in Europe and other parts of the world shared experiences, ideas, initiatives for a different world. In this context we as the EWM presented and discussed two workshops on water, a commons presently under threat of liberistic policies of commodification, privatization and appropriation.
The first workshop, Water policies in Europe, was held on August 18th.
We start conceptualising water as a commons. Water shapes societies but it is also a source of conflict depending on how it is understood. This is why the framework of the commons enables appropriate management capable of resolving conflicts.
Water as a common good implies the need for regulations through community decision rules to avoid situations of abuse, depletion or overexploitation. And this communal regulation with democratic decision-making mechanisms implies strong, transparent, open and participatory governance where all water users from the community in question have a place. And this governance must be carried out by the public authorities and the users that make up the community so the decisions are taken to revert to the common interest. It makes no sense to delegate water governance to actors with particular interests and actors operating outside the community. From this view, it is justified the fact that water is an inalienable good that cannot be subject to commodification.
In contrast, the European Union understands water from a different point of view. Already in 1992, with the Dublin Declaration on Water and Sustainable Development, water was declared as an economic resource. Until the 1980s most water services were publicly managed but with the global neoliberal shift privatisation was introduced as the magic formula through pressure from international financial institutions and the mantra of public debt and inefficiency. Public services goals like accessibility, fairness and equity were replaced by financial efficiency objectives. Within this framework, water governance is considered a technical issue which allows multistakeholderism, especially for the private sector.
The European Commission has tried several times to attempt to national and municipal sovereignty and give power to water corporations. It happened with the attempt to introduce water in the single market or the Troika impositions in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal or Ireland in times of crisis.
For these reasons, the Right2Water campaign was launched in 2012 to collect signatures in order to demand the recognition of the human right to water and protect the common good of water in the European Union, following the indications of the 2010 United Nations General Assembly resolution that recognised water and sanitation as a basic and universal human right. The Right2Water was the first European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) and collect almost 2M signatures.
Thanks to the mobilisation generated the European Water Movement was founded in 2012 in Naples. Since then, we coordinate our grassroots efforts and social movements that work at the local level to raise our demands at the European level. We have been able to generate a global European alliance with international connections. We still look forward to implementing an open, transparent and participatory water governance where water is managed as a common good.
In the workshop we also review the European water policies as they shape water management. At EU level we explained the partial and unsatisfactory EU legislation that didn’t transpose (or did partially) in its normative instances deliberated by UN Recognition of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, or requested by a Right2Water European Citizens’ Initiative and initially approved by the EU Parliament; also we explained the conditioning of EU top institutions by private lobbies.
At national and territorial level we exposed an illustration of the elements for a real public and participative water government and a glance across Europe on experiences of (re)municipalisation of water services and grassroots initiatives;the risk of commodification and privatization of the whole water cycle originated by the Next Generation EU and the related Recovery Plans of the EU Member States.
For a detailed description of the workshop, see the slides of our presentation.
The second workshop, Struggles against the grabbing of water and the pollution of the aquatic ecosystems by private companies in Europe, was held August 19.
Wetlands are not only reservoirs of biodiversity but are also crucial for the sustainable management of water resources, both in terms of quantity (groundwater recharge) and quality (purification). They mitigate floods and coastal storms and provide water in times of drought, thus limiting the effects of climate change.
However, wetlands are declining all over the world due to multiple anthropogenic pressures (land occupation and soil drainage by intensive agriculture and urbanisation, increased water abstraction, mining, pollution). According to the European Commission, two-thirds of wetlands in Europe have disappeared since the beginning of the 20th century. As the main cause of wetland loss in Europe, their transformation into agricultural land has slowed down in recent years, while urban and tourist developments and the development of transport infrastructures in place of wetlands have increased.
With this in mind, World Wetlands Day 2022 has called for action to preserve existing wetlands and restore those we have degraded where possible.
Jorge Garcia-Arias, Hug March, Nuria Alonso & Mar Satorras (2022)
We discuss the water remunicipalization process in the city of Valladolid (Spain), focusing specifically on its public financing model. Valladolid water remunicipalization has been a politically driven process, but implemented and managed in a technical way, through a public 100% municipality-owned company. As we show, it does not require the additional participation of financial intermediaries, public or private. The Valladolid remunicipalization process has been largely successful, with efficient financial and technical management, including some equity and environmental considerations, although it is not free from financial challenges that could cause it to totter in the future.
After decades of academic discussions on the benefits and negative dimensions of water privatization across the globe (e.g., Bakker, 2005, 2007; Budds & McGranahan, 2003; Swyngedouw, 2005), there is broad consensus around the idea that public water utilities can be just as efficient as their private counterparts, and in some cases more so (Bel et al., 2010). The lack of satisfaction by local governments with private water providers have pushed many municipal authorities to seek alternative modes of provision (Bel et al., 2018), either returning to public services (remunicipalization) or creating new public services (municipalization).1 However, while (re)municipalization has gained momentum and has been portrayed by some political movements, activists and academics as a transformative change that could embrace radical visions of society around autonomism and anticapitalism, empirical research has also shown that many (re)municipalization processes can be labelled social-democratic (McDonald, 2018) or even part of a ‘pragmatic market management process’ (Clifton et al., 2021, p. 293). As such, much of the recent literature on water remunicipalization focuses on whether the processes have been fundamentally driven by ideological and political reasons, or technical or economic causes (Hanna & McDonald, 2021).
Regardless of their motivations, remunicipalization processes need to be accompanied by solid transition plans, of which public financing and public banks can play an important role. In this sense, the classic discussion about the role, functions and effectiveness of public banking – which Marois (2022) labels as orthodox/political versus heterodox/developmental views – has been revived in recent years. In the view of many public bank advocates, public banking could play an important role by complementing the financing that private banks cannot or do not want to cover, especially in areas related to infrastructure, as well as helping to achieve certain socio-economic objectives by playing a countercyclical role, helping to stabilize the economy and reducing the intensity of crises.
Read the full article on the website of Water International, official journal of the International Water Resources Association.
Every 3 years the World Water Council organises the World Water Forum. The name of the forum is not fair, as it is a forum for private water companies. The World Water Council is a private lobby formed by the main water multinational companies, such as Agbar, Suez and Veolia, which promote the privatisation and deregulation of public water and sanitation services in the world.
This is the reason why the organisations and people who fight to make access to water a human right and a common good, organise a counter-summit called the Alternative World Water Forum (AWWF) for each World Water Forum. We work within a common framework that understands water as a human right and a non-marketable public good. And we understand that a World Forum to discuss the main issues and problems of water cannot be co-opted by private interests or ignore the participation of citizens and, above all, the communities most affected by the lack of access to the right to water.
After the first Water Forum in 1997 in Morocco, the World Forum returns to the African continent, this time in the capital of Senegal, Dakar. When the official forum was announced, local and regional organisations quickly mobilised to organise the alternative forum (FAME). The aim of this #FAME2022 is to unite efforts from around the world to guarantee the right to water and protect water resources, especially for those populations suffering from poverty and social exclusion. The #FAME2022 will address the challenges of secure and affordable access to water, as well as climate change and democratic water governance.
The #FAME2022 programme
FAME 2022 will be held from March 21st to 25th. It will start with a big popular demonstration to show our rejection of the policies of privatisation and spolio of water that the city and the Senegalese country are suffering. On March 22nd, #WorldWaterDay, there will be a grand opening and international press conference, with the support of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation and the Mayor of Dakar. From March 22nd to 25th, there will be several plenary sessions, workshops and cultural and artistic events. Of particular note are the strategic meetings for the creation of an African water justice network. The full programme of the forum can be found here.
Given the circumstances of the pandemic, FAME 2022 in Dakar will have a hybrid format to allow virtual participation. Do not miss the opportunity to follow the forum virtually. Register at this link.
The path to #FAME2022
Engineering Without Borders (ESF) and the European Water Movement (EWM) have a long tradition of international links, which is why we participate in the organisation of the alternative forums since 2006.
Our involvement in the FAME International Steering Committee started in 2020, when, despite the pandemic that was soon going to lock down, we travelled to Dakar and met several organisations to start the path towards the Alternative Forum. It was a meeting with many stories from different parts of Africa, and with the voices of powerful women eager to be heard.
The choice of Dakar by the World Water Council is not by chance. It is only two years since the Senegalese government granted the management of drinking water in the main Senegalese cities to the multinational Suez. And the African continent, with a great lack of access to water and sanitation, is seen by international corporations as an important market to exploit.
Since 2019 ESF has participated in all the meetings of the international steering committee. In October 2021 we hosted an EWM meeting in Barcelona, where we discussed the european participation in FAME and hosted an event to raise awareness of the African water reality here in Catalonia. Today the Forum starts, we are very satisfied with the work carried out and the solidarity links created with the African continent.
Brussels, 17 July 2021
At the time of writing (17 July), the terrible floods in Belgium, parts of Germany and the Netherlands have killed more than 100 people.Tens of thousands of people have been displaced, have lost everything and will remain traumatised forever. Others were not even that “lucky”, unfortunately, and the large number of missing persons (1300 in Germany) leaves no doubt that the final toll will be much, much higher. The material damage is immense, not to mention the impact in terms of water and soil pollution (by hydrocarbons, heavy metals, PCBs, plastics, sewage, etc.).
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