First ECI to be submitted
“Water is a human right” is the slogan of the first-ever European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to be formally submitted to the European Commission. Over 1.8 million EU citizens have signed this ECI, and the required minimum number of signatures has been reached in 13 countries. The organisers handed the collected signatures to national authorities on 10 September 2013, and expect them to validate the ECI after discounting invalid signatures.
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European Citizens’ Initiative The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) was introduced in the Lisbon Treaty, as a means to enable citizens to participate in the development of EU policies. An ECI must collect at least one million signatures within a year after registration, and must reach a minimum number of signatures in seven Member States.The collected signatures are validated by national authorities. Within three months after validation of the signatures, the organisers may present their initiative at a public hearing in the European Parliament, and the Commission must state what action, if any, it will propose in response to the ECI.
After the launch of the ECI in May 2012, organisers encountered technical difficulties. In response, the Commission extended the deadlines for the early ECIs and offered to host the software for collection of signatures. Currently 17 ECIs are open for signature.
What is the campaign about?
The ECI aims to guarantee universal access to water and sanitation services in the EU, opposes the liberalisation (deregulation) of water services in the internal market and demands that control over water remains in public hands. Moreover, it wants the EU to promote universal access to water in development and trade policy.
The ECI is supported by social and environmental NGOs, public water operators and trade unions.
Situation in the EU
While some Member States like France have a long-standing tradition of private water services, the water supply in others (e.g. Germany) is mostly in public hands. England and Wales privatised water services in the 1980s. Some Member States affected by the recent financial crisis have privatised water companies in order to raise state revenue.
Under EU law, Member States remain free to decide whether to privatise or liberalise water services. In response to public concerns, the EC decided in June 2013 to specifically exclude water services from the scope of the proposed Concessions Directive.
An EP Library briefing on water privatisation in the EU provides an overview of the EU legislation and analyses the respective advantages and drawbacks of both liberalisation and privatisation.
As early as 2004, the EP considered water as a “shared resource of mankind” that should not be subject to the rules of the internal market, and opposed the liberalisation of water services.
The EP resolution of 15 March 2012 on the 6th World Water Forum states that water “should not be a source of illegitimate profit”. In its resolution of 3 July 2012 on the implementation of EU water legislation, the EP considers water a public good and access to water as a fundamental and universal right, while urging more efficient use of water. The EP resolution of 13 June 2013 on the Millennium Development Goals stresses the importance of universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation in the fight against poverty.
National authorities have three months to validate the signatures. After validation, the organisers will present the ECI at a public hearing in the European Parliament, while the Commission has three months to prepare a response.