Public Values

Pan-European citizens' coalition seeks moratorium to protect public water from privatization

European Commission pushing privatization of water services.

Scene from European Social Forum in September, in Malmo, Swedenby Olivier Hoedeman, Alternet

November 1, 2008 — The first-ever pan-European civil society coalition against water privatisation was launched last week during the European Social Forum in the Swedish city Malmo. Including citizens groups from Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Turkey and a dozen other countries across Europe, the European Network for Public Water will insist on major changes in EU policies towards water management, away from the current pro-privatisation approach.

The pressure towards liberalising water services, which in most European countries are still primarily or exclusively in public hands, to a large extent stems from the European Commission. While officially required to take a neutral stance on public versus private management, the Commission seems determined to find ways to transform the water sector in Europe by exposing it to "competition" via public tendering.

An ambitious attempt by the European Commission to get water delivery included under Single Market rules was rejected by the European Parliament in 2004, but this has by no means ended the Commission's pressure for liberalizing the sector. The most recent example is the infringement procedure launched by the Commission in spring 2008 against Italian municipalities that have jointly organised their public water services in a multi-municipal consortium.

The Commission claims this cannot be considered 'in-house' public management and thus violates EU procurement law. The water services of these Italian cities, the Commission argues, must be offered for competitive bidding, which means allowing private water corporations to bid for the contract.

In fact, the multi-municipal consortium used by the Italian cities is an entirely legitimate and increasingly popular model of organizing public water services, due to its potential to benefit from scale-advantages. This model is widely used, for instance in The Netherlands, France, Germany and Sweden. The Commission's infringement procedure is therefore a serious threat to public water delivery in Europe.

The Commission's approach is essentially ideology-driven, based on flawed assumptions about the superiority of the private sector in service delivery as well as a misguided belief in the universal applicability of "competition." Reality shows that public utilities often perform far better than private water operators when it comes to water quality, low leakage and tariff levels and overall sustainability.. . .

To read further . . .

Privatization vs. Public Values Frame
  Competition for low cost of delivery / Stability, sustainability, accountability

Links and sources
  Europe Seeks Moratorium to Protect Public Water from Privatization Push, by Olivier Hoedeman, Alternet, November 1, 2008

Posted: November 05, 2008

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