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29th May 2022

First EU citizens' initiative calls for right to water

  • More than two thirds of the 1.8 million signatures came from Germany (Photo: Andrew Mason)

EU law should guarantee the right to water and sanitation, the first valid EU citizens’ initiative has said.

It also called for water services not to face liberalisation, collecting 1.8 million signatures after a campaign called Right2Water, which was backed by a string of NGOs and by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU).

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The activists held talks with the European Commission and MEPs on Monday (17 February) to mark the event.

The petition is the first to successfully use the so-called European Citizens' Initiative (ECI), introduced in 2012 as part of the Lisbon treaty, which lets 1 million or more EU citizens task the commission with consideration of new laws.

A minimum number of signatories, based on each country's population, is required in at least seven member states.

Right2Water reached a quorum in 13 countries.

More than two thirds of the 1.8 million signatures came from Germany.

The procedure was put in place partly to address complaints that EU institutions are inaccessible and unresponsive to ordinary people.

"At least we have the feeling of having been listened to - that is already huge," said Anne-Marie Perret, who helped front the campaign, which reached the 1 million target in just three months.

"Our goal is to ensure that binding legal measures are adopted on this. Water should not be liberalised," she added.

The initiative calls for legislation to set a 100 percent target for good quality water and sanitation across the EU by 2016, with sanctions for countries that do not comply. It also calls on the EU executive to exclude water services from internal market rules and to keep them out of any trade agreement it negotiates.

Internal market commissioner Michel Barnier last year already excluded water from the scope of EU rules on contractors and operators after accusations the commission was promoting privatisation by the back door.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday (17 February) Maros Sefcovic, the EU's administrative relations commissioner, described the campaign as "very clear proof that this new participative democracy tool works.”

Matthias Groote, who chairs the parliament's environment committee, called it "a milestone in direct democracy in Europe.”

The commission will respond to the proposals by 20 March to say whether it will table new legislation.

Sefcovic also said the EU executive would look at ways to make the system easier to use when it revises the procedure in 2015, commenting that the commission had needed to step in with IT support for a number of previous campaign efforts.

"We knew that the first electronic tool for transnational democracy would be difficult," he said, adding "we need to make online collection of signatures easier.”

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