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Proposal to exclude public water services from concessions is a win for Europe’s citizens

01 July 2013
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Public Services International joins with PSI’s European representative, the European Federation of Public Service Unions, in welcoming the decision of European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services to listen to the voices of people concerned about further commercialisation and commodification of public water services.

The powerful corporate lobby has worked for decades to get its hands on lucrative concession contracts for the provision of this fundamental public service.  Only recently have people mobilised to reclaim their public water utility services and to prevent further market intrusions.  The European Citizens Initiative is evidence of this.

European Commissioner Michel Barnier has announced that he will propose to the Commission to take water and sanitation services out of the scope of the directive on concessions. He explicitly recognized the voice of 1.7 million European citizens that have signed online and on paper the European Citizens Initiative right2water.

EPSU’s Deputy General Secretary Jan Willem Goudriaan said, “Many have recognised that the concessions directive’s explicit aim was to promote competition for public services. As such it is a symbol of the type of EU policies that a growing group of European people do not support. Europe’s future lies not in more austerity and competition, not in more internal market for public services to the benefit of corporations, but in more cooperation and solidarity and building a Social Europe.”

PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli added, “I call on all elected officials, as well as public utility operators to join together with the workers and trade unions and with members of our communities to ensure the human right to water.  We also call on all public utilities to join us in building public-public partnerships, based on mutual respect and without the profit motive.  Only in this way will we be able to harness the strength of public services to truly implement universal access to water and sanitation.” 

While the full Commission still has to follow the Commissioner, his announcement is a success for citizens who have seen the concessions directive as a threat to their public water services. It is also recognition that the Commission should not take actions that could undermine a successful ECI (see EPSU’s letter to Commission President Barroso and Commissioner Šefčovič). It could signal that the instrument of the ECI can be a useful tool to influence European policy. The full implementation of the demands of the ECI still needs to be realized and legislated. The organisers of the ECI have announced they will submit the signatures on 9 September 2013.

The concessions directive itself is not withdrawn. The negotiations between a small group of representatives of Council, Parliament and Commission continue. Other public services are included in the scope of the directive such as child care and elderly care. EPSU has argued that if the directive is not rejected by governments and the European Parliament, public services should be excluded and measures taken to strengthen transparency and the possibilities to use social, environmental and quality criteria. Any concessions directive as well as the revision of the procurement directive should stipulate that collective agreements at the place of work should be respected as demanded by ILO Convention 94 on the use of labour clauses in public contracts.

For related links, see: www.epsu.org/a/9598

For more information on the concession directive, please contact Penny Clarke, +32 2 2501080 or pclarke@epsu.org

For more information on the ECI right2water, please contact info@right2water.eu

Also see