Written by Gregor Erbach
Updated 21 May 2015
‘Water is a human right’ is the slogan of the first-ever European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) that was submitted to the European Commission in December 2013. The ECI received more than 1.6 million officially validated signatures from EU citizens.
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.
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 at least 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.
Taking stock of the experience of first three years, EPRS (Ex-Post Impact Assessment Unit) has assessed the implementation of the ECI process and suggested some improvements.
Response of the European Commission
While the collection of signatures for the ECI was still ongoing, the Commission decided in June 2013 to specifically exclude water services from the scope of the proposed Concessions Directive, responding to public concerns.
In March 2014, the Commission gave a favourable response to the ECI and committed to a range of actions to improve water-related policies in the EU and in international development. A public consultation on the Drinking Water Directive was launched in June 2014, stakeholder meetings were organised, and an evaluation of the Drinking Water Directive is part of the Commission’s work programme for 2015.
European Parliament hearing and own-initiative report
Parliament’s Environment Committee is currently preparing an own-initiative report to follow up on the initiative. Lynn Boylan’s (GUE-NGL, Ireland) draft report regrets that the Commission’s communication lacks ambition and calls on the Commission to come up with legislative proposals that recognise the human right to water and universal access. It calls for excluding water and sanitation services from trade agreements and from internal market rules. It expresses concern about water poverty and calls for policies such as water solidarity funds. The Committee vote is scheduled for 26 May 2015 and plenary is expected to discuss the report in September.