European citizens demand the right-2-water & sanitation
At the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) mid-term conference in Dublin this week, Carola Fischbach-Pyttel, General Secretary of the European Public Services Union (EPSU) announced that over 1.6 million Europeans have signed a petition (on and offline) promoted by trade unions calling for water and sanitation to be public services, guaranteeing access for all, as part of the Right2Water campaign.
In the UK, water and sanitation has already been privatised, but the tide has started turning on public ownership of such utilities. Scandals, mismanagement and the economic crisis mean people now care much more than they did about who is providing public services, as well as how well it’s done. A strong showing for the ECI in the UK, linked to pressure to defend these utilities from privatisation and liberalisation across the rest of the EU, could make a real difference. The European Commission should focus on ensuring water and sanitation for all citizens in Europe and adopt a rights-based approach instead of its current market-based approach.
The petition is known as a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), which means that if a million European citizens (with thresholds of signature in at least seven countries) sign up, the European Commission has to consider acting on it. The Right2Water ECI has secured sufficient support already, in 9 countries, but unions want to keep gathering signatures, with the aim of 2 million signatures by the deadline set in European legislation this September. In the UK, we want to reach the 55,000 signature target set out in EU legislation.
The campaign, launched by unions across Europe last year (Unison’s Dave Prentis is one of the sponsors), is backed by trade unionists and politicians like the Mayors of Leicester (Sir Peter Soulsby), Brussels, Copenhagen, Genoa, Paris, Vienna and more. But the list of Ambassadors includes church leaders, singers, professors and Finnish Olympic swimmer (no stranger to water, then!) Hanna-Maria Seppälä. She says:
“Water is a crucially important element for me for the sake of training, good physical condition and health. Water is the basic prerequisite for life and, therefore, safe, clean water should be a basic right available to everyone.”
The TUC Executive in April agreed to promote not just the Right2Water ECI, but other initiatives on media ownership – promoted by the European Federation of Journalists and the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom – and on quality care services for the elderly, backed by the National Pensioners Convention and the ETUC pensioners’ movement FERPA (forthcoming.)