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21st Jun 2021

EU commission to rewrite water laws after citizens' campaign

  • Sefcovic said 'we have been ambitious in our response,' but Right2Water said it is 'lacking ambition' (Photo: Andrew Mason)

The EU is set to re-write its legislation on access to drinking water, the European Commission said Wednesday (19 March), in response to a pan-EU campaign backed by 1.8 million people.

"We will launch an EU-wide public consultation on the drinking water legislation in view of improving access to quality water in the EU," Maros Sefcovic, the EU's administrative relations commissioner, said.

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"No doubt this will lead to a revision of the existing legislation," he noted, adding that "citizens have been very ambitious in their demands and we have been ambitious in our response".

The Right2Water campaign collected 1.8 million signatures and was backed by a string of NGOs and by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU).

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.

It calls on the EU executive to ensure that EU law guarantees the right to water and sanitation, including a minimum supply to all Europeans regardless of their ability to pay.

There have been complaints in several countries about citizens having their water supply cut after being unable to pay their bills.

Commenting, Sefcovic that the EU executive would urge governments to offer a minimum water supply to all citizens of at least 20-25 litres of drinking water per day, in accordance with recommendations from the World Health Organisation.

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.

But the campaign group accused the commission of “lacking ambition”.

“The reaction of the European Commission lacks any real ambition to respond appropriately to  the expectations of 1.9 million people” says Jan Willem Goudriaan, vice-president of the ECI Right2Water.

“I regret that there is no proposal for legislation recognising the human right to water.”

But Sefcovic said that the Commission's hands were tied by the EU treaty, which leaves most decisions on water provisions in the hands of local and national government.

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