Is Right to Water a reality in the EU? - an explainer
Citizens demand the right to water
The first-ever European Citizens' Initiative, on Right2Water, gathered 1.6 million signatures from citizens across the EU. In a loud and clear voice, the petition demanded that water must remain a public service and public good.
Validated signatures were submitted to the European Commission in 2013 at a time it was driving an aggressive privatisation push that threatened to turn public services, like water, into means for profit for corporations.
Under the terms of the Initiative, the Commission was obliged to hear and respond to the demands of the petitioners. These are:
- The EU institutions and Member States be obliged to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation.
- Water supply and management of water resources not be subject to ‘internal market rules’ and that water services are excluded from liberalisation.
- The EU increases its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation.
Finally, in February 2018 the Commission presented a proposal to revise the Drinking Water Directive (DWD), which is 20 years-old and strived to address some of the demands.
What has been the Commission’s response?
The DWD showed to be a relevant tool in ensuring the high quality of the water consumed in the EU but it still uses parameters set over 20 years ago. The proposal aims to update those parameters, correct shortcomings and partially respond to demands of the European Citizens’ Initiative.
While the Commission’s proposal strengthens water quality parameters, in line with World Health Organization (WHO) standards, it is ironically weak in respecting the demands of the Right2Water petition. Crucially, it does not recognise the right to water as a fundamental right for all people.
The European Parliament is currently debating changes to the Commission’s proposal before it is adopted into law. There were some mild improvements and disappointingly some aspects that were even weakened. Overall the Parliament’s proposal does not radically change the content of what the Commission proposed, which is not good enough for us.
GUE/NGL stands firm with the people’s demands
Left MEPs put forward proposals to strengthen water quality standards, which we consider not being sufficiently strict in the current draft such as concentration levels of polyfluoroalkyl substances (a group of man-made chemicals present in consumer products like cookware and clothing) and we argued for closer monitoring of micro-plastics in water.
We strongly disagree with both the Commission and right-wing MEPs on their disregard for the European Citizens’ Initiative petition. We therefore opposed and voted against attempts to weaken key elements of the Right to Water and saw this as an insult to the democratic process.
In particular, we are pushing back against attempts to water down obligations on the right to water for member states. We want to make access to water for all an obligation for member states.
What our MEPs say?
Lynn Boylan (Sinn Fein, Ireland) “The Drinking Water Directive is supposed to be the Commission's response to the European Citizen's Initiative, Right2Water, which made important demands on access to water. What we have ended up with is a Parliament position that does an injustice to this citizen's petition. GUE/NGL are making efforts to enshrine the right to water with solid obligations on Member States.”
Joint appeal from MEPs
Ahead of the vote in the plenary on the 23th of October 2018, dozens of MEPs from different political groups have issued a joint appeal calling on the house not to further water down the Commission's proposal and to stand for the right to water. Together they ask: “what of those without a tap to turn on; those without access to clean, safe drinking water in the EU today?”
Read the letter here