Mobilising for Change - the first ever successful European Citizens' Initiative Right2Water

(26 January 2015) If the European Parliament is positive about the first ever successful European Citizens' Initiative Right to Water that wants the EU to recognise the human right to water and sanitation in the European Union, and if the European Commission would still refuse to act, the instrument of the ECI to promote more participation of citizens and more European debate will be dead. Which activist and which citizen would want to put resources into it to see it frustrated by Commission shenanigans. Such were the stark words of EPSU General Secretary in response to a question if he would propose a European Citizens Initiative again at a lunch meeting organised by the European Trade Union Institute, 22 January 2015.   For now we remain positive:  the European Parliament will consider its reaction to the ECI to be voted in plenary scheduled for July. Almost all MEPs expressed their support at the public hearing 17 February 2014.  4 candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission said they would support the central demand of the ECI to recognise the human right to water and sanitation in the EU. The ECI Right2water has been a way for people and groups to engage in each others struggles, and we continue to engage with each other. 

The ETUI organised the discussion to confront the views of activists, campaigners with those of academics. Prof. Andreas Bieler, University Nottingham, analysed the ECI and presented the first findings. He described the alliance between unions and social groups, the tensions, the arguments, results and what he saw as factors of success. He put the ECI in the context of the struggle of social movements at all levels and including the global level to confront the negative impact of capitalism on public services. He argued they can be seen as part of class struggle. The ECI Right2water has also been seen by many of its supporters as being an extension of the resistance to austerity policies in many countries. He highlighted the inspiration of the ECI for the referendum in Thessaloniki, the ongoing Spanish movement and the mobilisation of the Irish population behind Right2Water Ireland.

His analysis was broadly echoed by Louisa Parks of the University of Lincoln. She looked at how the ECI was framed by the activists and social movements and also demonstrated how the ECI was part of the broader social movement. Both Louisa and Andreas drew attention to the risk that with the ECI moving into the EU Institutions the connection with the people supporting it could be weakened. EPSU General Secretary underlined that with the ECI moving through the EP new efforts will be made to mobilse people for change and in support

Lynn Boylan of the Confederal Group of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left and from Sinn Fein in Ireland made the direct link with the campaign in Ireland. People understand very well what the reorganisation of water companies to come to one big company Irish Water in Ireland is all about. They are concerned that this government or another will sell it. Mrs. Boylan is also the rapporteur on the ECI in the European Parliament. She made clear that she shared the concerns that if the EP would not come together and ask the Commission to implement the demand of the ECI Human Right to Water this would have far reaching consequences and undermine the legitimacy of the instrument. She was very much aware of how private water operators seek to influence the MEPs and work against the demands of citizens.

An Le Nouail Marlière, member of the European Economic and Social Committee also participated and referred to the opinion of the EESC on the ECI right to water. Its position was adopted with overwhelming majority.  It calls on the European Commission to legislate.

Philippe Pochet, director of ETUI chaired the panel which took place in Brussels.