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The Hoist: Private Water

by dvx Wed Feb 6th, 2013 at 03:33:55 PM EST

[The Hoist: featuring an item or items from today's Newsroom]

The European Parliament is debating - and by some accounts set to pass - a concessions directive that would force municipalities to put their water supply out to tender.

So how come this isn't getting more play?


Certainly Germany is noticing. The TV news magazine Monitor picked up the story and ran with it admirably:

Other media are picking it up as well. The story is not without legs.

But in English, all I've found so far is this:

While hundreds of thousands support citizens initiative for water as a Human Right and opposing liberalization, MEPs vote through concessions directive | Water campaign

4 February 2013) The first up and running European Citizens Initiative (ECI) - Water is a Human Right – is more than 4/5ths of the way towards  the target of a million online signatures. And many workers and citizens are collecting paper signatures as well.  This ECI was the first to start the paper and on-line collection of signatures. It is the first initiative that has passed the ¾ threshold and likely to be the first to reach the 1 million mark.

Clearly many hundred thousands of citizens are concerned about water and sanitation. They regard these as public services. They do not want water services to be sold for profit. Many have signed the ECI following TV programmes and newspaper articles especially in Germany in which the Concessions Directive was discussed. The European Commission has proposed this directive to promote public private partnerships and competition. Many are concerned that municipalities that award the concession for water, but also other public services, to municipal companies will risk that these concessions have to be brought on to the market and will be forced  to be provided by private companies for profit.

A majority of the European Parliament’s Committee for the Internal Market (IMCO), dominated by conservatives, defeated proposals to reject the directive.  It also rejected proposals to have a broad exclusion for public services, and it rejected separate proposals to exclude water services.

Naturally, proponents say that no municipality will be "forced" to privatize it's water supply. But critics point out the the European tender requirement means that the Nestlés and Vivendis of this world can snap up concessions with dumping quotes that no responsible water works can match. So what's it like where you're at?

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Presumably those opposed understand that private water companies are at liberty to load their companies up with bond debt and spend the proceeds from those bond sales in ways that enrich the officers while increasing the cost of water to consumers, which, of course, municipal chartered water companies could do as well, but with private or closely held corporations the incentives are for increased debt provided some of it falls through to the shareholders bottom line. Debt is sometimes necessary for expansion and upgrade of service but misuse is less likely to be detected and deterred in private or closely held corporations as less transparency is required.

Baxter County, Arkansas has just had a painful lesson in these ugly realities with the local waste disposal company, which I strongly suspect was looted by insider good old boys while it was under the supervision of a regional, multi-county 'economic development board'. I would be amazed if some of the wasted bond money has not ended up in some private pockets. Now it is bankrupt, the future of a disposal site atop karst between two fresh water lakes is murky, there are bondholders wanting some of their money back and the idiots who refused to vote for a bond that would have kept municipal control and paid to fix problem have found their waste disposal fees have risen more than the bond would have cost. The opposition was lead, (drumroll), by The Tea Party. Good work, assholes.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Feb 6th, 2013 at 11:12:12 PM EST
The water ECI has taken the hurdle of 1 million signatures yesterday--but in too few countries. There are plenty of signatures in Germany, Austria, Belgium, but too few everywhere else.

by Katrin on Tue Feb 12th, 2013 at 10:01:11 AM EST
Why does my map not show?
by Katrin on Tue Feb 12th, 2013 at 10:02:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You defined as image source:

 http://www.heise.de/tp/bild/38/38548/38548_1.html

which is not an image.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Feb 12th, 2013 at 10:21:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Katrin on Tue Feb 12th, 2013 at 10:32:28 AM EST
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Maybe there isn't much interest in Italy because they've already overturned water privitisation be a referendum (two, actually)?
by gk (g k quattro due due sette "at" gmail.com) on Tue Feb 12th, 2013 at 02:56:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sounds reasonable. But why is the interest in so many countries (the pink ones) even lower?
by Katrin on Tue Feb 12th, 2013 at 03:36:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I find a reference to the ECI here on ET. But in France I've seen nothing about it, received no e-mails (and ET receives, and I receive personally, quite a number of petition calls).
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Feb 12th, 2013 at 04:42:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That will please Veolia, who are, er,  somewhat unhappy about the debate, and suing madly. (The film has been on Arte today.) Are people disinterested because the privatisation of water is so far advanced anyway and people think the battle is lost anyway?
by Katrin on Tue Feb 12th, 2013 at 05:46:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I don't think so, in France. I'm just wondering why I haven't seen a call to sign the petition. I suppose there's a national-level organisation to get the petition signed in each country, and the French one is possibly not active or efficient enough?

But where can one sign the petition? Link?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 at 01:59:23 AM EST
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by Katrin on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 at 02:52:04 AM EST
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That petition says nothing about any clear and present danges such as quoted by the diary:
The European Parliament is debating - and by some accounts set to pass - a concessions directive that would force municipalities to put their water supply out to tender.
As such, it is hard to get people to sign it.

I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 at 03:52:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It does say water supply should be a public service.

I wonder how general you are obliged to be when drafting an ECI.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 at 04:41:24 AM EST
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Let me rephrase. On the linked site, one finds what is probably the text to be submitted to the Commission:
Water and sanitation are a human right!
Water is a public good, not a commodity. We invite the European Commission to propose legislation implementing the human right to water and sanitation as recognised by the United Nations, and promoting the provision of water and sanitation as essential public services for all. The EU legislation should require governments to ensure and to provide all citizens with sufficient and clean drinking water and sanitation. We urge that:

1.The EU institutions and Member States be obliged to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation.
2.Water supply and management of water resources not be subject to `internal market rules' and that water services are excluded from liberalisation.
3.The EU increases its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation.

What I meant to say above is that, if you simply tell people to support this, they'll shrug it off as a feel-good declaration of principles.

You have to actually scroll down to find, hidden among banner graphics (some animated!) and a google map, a FAQ. Clicking through to Why are you organising this? you get

We want to get a public debate going and we want a shift in focus in European water policy.
Below (again requiring scrolling down in the FAQ, there's why should I sign where one finally gets
The European Commission should stop its constant push for liberalisation of water and sanitation services. Promoting the market to provide these services means that those who can afford more might get better services and those who can afford less will get worse services. "No money, no water" is what a market for water services means. But water and sanitation are a human right. It is a government obligation and responsibility to provide these services to all people.
There is still no explanation that there is a clear and present danger that there is actually a directive on "liberalization of water services" about to be passed.

So, communication #fail IMHO.

I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 at 04:55:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All true. And I also wonder how good get-out-the-signatures communications have been in certain countries (see colours on map).
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 at 05:49:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think general might be the way to go. That way it and the signatures collected still stand as things slightly change. Then you use your multilingual campaign page for outrage triggering.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 at 05:27:49 AM EST
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The hurdles of the ECI are very high. This probably creates the necessity to formulate a bit, er, watery to get really broad support. I am not sure that the initiators knew the text of the current motion when they started the petition last year. This is not a text to go on a general strike for though, all you are meant to do is a few mouse clicks to sign it!
by Katrin on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 at 04:50:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
a couple of decades ahead of the play : privatization of water happened in the 80s and 90s, and resulted in corruption and blowback. Now, many municipalities have re-localised water management; others farm it out on fixed-term contracts, but the worst of the flagrant abuses are over.

This era of easy money and easy morals enabled the big French groups to expand and become the world's biggest : the Compagnie Générale des Eaux, founded by Napoleon III, crossed the Rubicon in the 90s and became Vivendi/Veolia/Vinci.

So the French service companies, Veolia Water in particular, would be the big beneficiaries of a push to privatization. This explains why French economic circles would not want this petition to be known about (and which print media doesn't carry advertising from Veolia?)

It doesn't explain why political and environmental circles aren't agitating, out of solidarity with the rest of Europe. It's a poor show. Needs promoting.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 at 03:38:11 AM EST
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by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 at 04:42:16 AM EST
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This diary was the first I heard about it. And water privatisation should make waves in Sweden. So poor organisation outside core territory is my guess. And of course the lack of a European public space to shout in.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 at 04:46:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I understand it, water is already tendered in Denmark.

It's just subject to intrusive and heavy-handed regulation.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 at 02:23:21 PM EST
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