EU citizens force water debate onto agenda


Water and who should provide it - the public or private sector - has become the first issue to be pushed onto Brussels' policy agenda via a new mechanism meant to involve ordinary people in EU decision-making.

The EU Citizens' Initiative was introduced in 2012 following changes to the EU treaty that were designed to bring law-making closer to the EU's 500 million people.

It gives citizens the right to make policy proposals on any issue as long as they have secured 1 million signatures spread across at least seven of the EU's 28 member states - although it does not guarantee lawmakers will pass legislation.

Late in December, organisers of the Right2Water initiative formally submitted their proposal after exceeding the threshold.

They say the human right to water should be enshrined in EU law and that public, not private companies should be responsible for providing water services.

A public hearing on the proposal, expected in February in the European Parliament, could be heated as some member states, such as Portugal, are aiming to sell off state water companies to pay off debt, while others already have private ownership.

The Commission, the EU's executive, said it was too early to say what the outcome of the citizens' initiative will be.

"It's rare that we have something this new," Olga Kurpisz, a policy officer at the Commission, said. "This is a very new instrument. It's an historic experience, which is taking place in the EU. It's difficult. The outcome is unknown."

Under the rules, the Commission has three months to analyse the proposal. It can either agree to it in principle, say it needs more time to consider it, or reject it. If it does that, it has to give reasons, which can be legal or political.

Those who organised the initiative are adamant that water, as "a common good", should be in public hands.

"It's hugely threatened by multinationals. Multinationals are there to make profit and reimburse shareholders, rather than to satisfy citizen's needs," said Anne-Marie Perret, president of the Right2Water Citizens' Committee.

Representatives of the private-sector water industry say recognition of the human right to water in EU law would be helpful, but argue privatisation is often the most cost-effective way to deliver supplies.

AquaFed, the International Federation of Private Water Operators, which represents more than 300 companies in 40 countries, quotes Britain as an instance of privatisation delivering a critical service cost-efficiently.

The more than 1.8 million citizens who signed the Right2Water initiative came from across the European Union, but more than half of them were from Germany.

Perret said that was a happy accident. The committee had been struggling to get signatures, which need to be backed up by passport details, until a German comedian Frank-Markus Barwasser, known to his fans as the bumbling, hat-wearing Erwin Pelzig, independently raised the issue on German television.

"Eighty percent of Europeans don't want private water," Pelzig ranted in the comic sketch



Mike Parr's picture

"AquaFed,.............quotes Britain as an instance of privatisation delivering a critical service cost-efficiently."

erm no. Most of the UK water companies are foreign owned. They have failed to invest in new water systems (e.g. 30% of the water supplied to Londoners is lost due to leaks - action of water company - close to zero) and for the most part use the UK as a cash-cow. Taxes are dodged (naturally), action of successive governments - zero (on the basis that private = good public = bad).

Cornelius Foley's picture

The people in ireland have been conned into this so called water company business on the pretext that it would cost €68 millions to fix the leaks under the roads in Dublin City, yet not one penny has been spent, but only 50 million or more to an agency already being used by An Bórd Gáis, and now we are being told we will be charged for water whether we use it or not.

Karel's picture

Well said Mr M Parr.

Whenever we see these issues as well we come across the term PFI (in Britain meaning Private Finance Initiative) and the equivalents in PPP or PPPP or DBFO or DBOOT etc which are used collectively to mean "Buy now pay later" and are complete bunkum approaches to the issues whether they are Water Sewage or Roads or Waste or Hospitals or Prisons or any other Falsified Accountancy terms that involve super-duper high-level Financial Advisors (such as De Loite, PWC etc.,) or Consulting Engineers -allegedly consulting engineers (such as PYORY, Atkins, RPS, Cowi-Consult etc.,) or so-called Banks (like RBS, Deutsche-bank, HSBC, MacQLloyds-TSB,Investec, JIT, etc.,) or well-known companies in the business area (like COVANTA. Dong-Energy, Vivendi, Suez-Group, FRG, McQuarrie, etc.,) who are only there for the financial gain at the expense of the Taxpayer and the Purchasers of the Services being proposed through these routes. All that then happens as had happened with the Water Companies in the UK (in fact in the first instance England and Wales) is for the buyers of these companies to use them as cash-cows to gain money from their purchases and busily hide the details away after being guaranteed to make over 45% absolute profit for which they pay no corporation taxes since they are owned overseas out of the site of the UK HMRC system. Then as they get to the end of their first five-year investment programme they conveniently rearrange the decks for the construction works they have promoted to be cut down to size by convincing contractors that their prices are too high and get the work done for over 30% cheaper...adding further to the profits.
After which they sell onward their Companies to their best and most cosiest of friends at a huge price (naturally about €5 Billion higher than they bought them originally so that these sales fall outside the Capital Gains area and these ghuge profits are sorthed out between the seller and buyers to make a nice cosy deal!
And as if that doesnot really configure the mechanism set up to administer the proposed Capital Works and Development programmes are manipulated by their close-knit friends of Consulting Engineers who are helped by the Controller of Pantomine Farce where OfWat and DEFRA say that they are controlling price rises against the prospective Capital Expenditure and Operations and Maintenance Expenditure in a further nice cosy relationship where Consulting Engineers and Advisors (again the same group as before agree what these are to be and fix them higher than necessary so that upon the Ofwat and Defra saying that they have to be reduced they are subsequently reduced to above a reasonable figure - effectively 20% higher than necessary - so that the Water Companies can make even further profits.
It is so cosy that they all appear to be saying that they are helping the Water Rate Payers when they are colluding to make the Water Rate Payers pay too much and all the Consultants then get rewarded further.
Lovely arrangement where only the Water Rate Payers lose.

Mike Parr's picture

I agree with the comments of the two previous posters. At the risk of introducing a discordant note: the fundamental problem is the assumption by those in government (national and EU-level) that markets deliver results. In some cases they do (e.g. food, many classes of consumer goods) in other cases they do not (e.g. power (elec & gas), water, sewage, transport, health...)

The neoliberals (& these vermin exist not just in the USA but in the UK and other countries) want markets everywhere for everything forever. The marketism ideology is in every way as pernicious as the so-called "communism" practised (if that is the word) by the USSR and its satellites.

Our problem is how to fight this ideology on the basis of a mixed economy (markets plus some government agency delivery of core services). At its core the neoliberals and their "marketism" is anti-human.

I hope the above does not sound to weird - you both outlined synmptoms - we need to address causes.

Victoria Micalleef's picture

I have read that the issues in Ireland are particularly striking here. (I do not live in Ireland I would say out right but have been visiting there for years and years.)

They have had this issue about PPP (Public Private Partnerships) which is Private Finance under the euphemism which Mr M Parr writes. And Mr C Foley seems to have acknowledged that as well.

These Bully-Boys from France Denmark the UK (previously Germany, but less so) from Japan and the USA seem to be in collusion with the Consulting Engineers and (so-called) Financial Advisors to say that the delivering of these essential services is a way of putting them "Off-Book" for PSBR (Publi Secktor Borrowing Requirements) and it has been Proven Beyond All Reasonable Doubt that this is not so. These are obfuscations to the truth, they defer the capital costs by just 3 years at which the built time is fimished and then the payment process starts.

You, Mr C Foley, have the worst set of colluding collaboration companies in Ireland in this and they include the major Consulting Firms there the Corporations of the Cities and the Central Government Civil Service as also the Political Parties in power. The example of - the project for Ringsend Waste Water Treatment Works comes to mind as but one where a Consulting Firm from Dublin was always given work without going through the EU Procurement Directive and then was given additional and additional works without any notification to the EU. This has been the Irish Way for years and decades and was around at the start when Ireland joined the EU. Never has it changed. So now it is moving onwards and onwards as part of the National Psyche and way that that Corrupt Government Civil Service Corporations and Consulting Engineers and Contractors have arranged.

So when these projects were eventually advertised in the Dublin Press they were looked on with total envy by these UK companies and the first thing that happened was that the Consulting Engineers were bought up by massive UK Companies so that they could gain the Fees for the consulting engineering services, which costs then went up by around 30% within a year. (They still retained the same firm in Dublin) and that was their ruse. Then they set up the programmes to ensure that they were over-engineered and over-priced and presented these cases for presentation to the Government and the D o E and L G whose staff were invariably ex consulting engineers from the same "pre-UK-acquired Company" who were certain to get their financial "kick-backs"

They call these procedures as PPP as though they are not privatisation but they are. And the Public is paying through the ears and eyes for them

And it is not limited to the Water Industry alone! That is hardly surprising so it is still happening.

Consider the position with the Dublin Waste Treatment project which was to be built at Ringsend - and is still thought to be built there. The original Consulting Engineers were conveniently given a contract to determine what they thought was "the best solution!" just before Ireland became an EU member. Their commission was fee-based and at €6 Million (initially) was a handsome - if not a crookedly-won - prize awarded by the Corporation of Dublin. It was so evident to everyone in Ireland that the theoretical budget was always going to be too high to consider under normal rules of contract and tendering - iwas to be greater than €300 Million - that jointly the Consulting Engineers with the Dublin Corporation and Government fixed a programme, the PPP, option. So now that the Consulting Engineers did this study that w aweel-known Danish company viewed how they should muscle in and arrange for their Friendly and tame Construction Company to secure the works as a long term finance design and build/operate programme. This was successfully done by manipulating procurement rules and so it became the Dublin Bay Waste to Energy Programme and the Corporation of Dublin viewing that Dublin alone could not afford this conveniently co-erced the other Councils around the area to join in. This was a coup be the Corporation and the Consulting Engineers and the Danish Contractor who saw this as a way to milk the area of huge funds. This was exposed in a series of complaints made in the Press when a local action group set up a dissenting web site under environmental campaigns that showed up the Government.

Now as this progressed the original contractor found that the issue became one of finding finance. During the campaign against the scheme various Senior University Professors from across the Country West and East declared the proposal as an absolute nonsense as it should have been built on the existing land fill and collection areas near the Dublin Bypass and away from the South East of Dublin at Ringsend. They were pooh-poohed repeatedly and despite showing that the whole project which now had risen to €360 Million could have been built for around €120 Million in a different process-route the proposal continued. Then a strange thing happened the Government in power before 2006 manipulated a Government debate to register the prroject of National Importance and arraigned it in a Quasi-Statute empowering the potential new Government to continue with it. Meanwhile the Capital Cost was going up all the time and the Consulting Engineers Fees were rising all the time so that their orinal Fees were to reach over €100 Million by 2012. The Recession Arrived, the Contractor changed names and the Company proposing to do the work changed from Indaver to Dong Energy (re-tendering the project internally to each other0 and the price went up again. The supplier of equipment could not get funds and was about to be be placed in Liquidation and so the Company sold back its project to Dong Energy and the price went up and up and changed from one treating 880,000 tonnes per year to 600,000 tonnes per year. This series of changes were pointed out to the Corporation as infringing EU Procurement Directive as also was that for the Consulting Engineer whos paid for bills were now beinmg agreed by Cerntral Government because it had arranged an ex-employee to work in its Environment and PLanning Departments that little if anything changed...even with the Greens in place!
The Government fell because of EU Bail-out issues and a new one was inserted in its place. Nothing changed and the Consulting Engineers bill (Fees) were gradually being paid ofgf whilst they were given more and more work without Tendering so that their UK owners in the South of England quietly rubbed their hands in they still do. So after the General Election after 14 years nothing has been built to handle te issue. No enforcement notices were arraigned against Ireland like Naples! No funders would fund the project in Ireland. And still the barracking from the Universities and the Press continued. The Leaders in the Government Civil Service Corporation the Consulting ERngineers and contractors are all up to their ey-balls in this unrealistic project that now has a €450 + Million capital tag and a long-term €1500+ Million 30 year tenure which cannot be financed because the selection of a Waste to Energy process has been designed against an old specification where the final disposal of the ash and toxic residues equivalent to 25% of the input treatment wastes will need specialise Land Filling and acosts of over €160 per tonne and sealed for at least 100 years to avoid it leaching in to the Ground Water and Aquifers that supply Dublin with potable water.

This was again pointed out to the Director General Environment in the EU and still nothing is done.

Now the Press across the Eu is saying that the alternative processing routes which avoid incineration/gasification/plasma/pyrolysis systems are so unreliable in the long term (since they would have to be fully upgraded every 10 years to meet new legislation requirements including the Stockholm Protocols and Incineration Tax to be levied in 2018) that this project should be rethought and the propositions of using a better system as had been suggested at €120 Million (which is less than the Consulting Engineers are getting in their final bill by €50 Million) that the EU must step in.

This is the typical issues seen around EU where so called moving water infrastructure in to private hands is also part. So far in the Uk model the great publicity issues of the Public Buying Shares and then selling them within a few months at twice the value might have been good for publicitee by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thantcher but it now haunts the Ruling Party of the time by the fact that many of those that promoted the ideas joined the Boards of these Newly-Privatised Water companies (and the other Gas, Electricity Waste Prisons roads Bridges/Tunnels Hospitals etc.) that the Gullible Public have forgotten.

Water Rates have more than quadrupled since then and for no benefit. And the Service is Worse. Meeting Quality Standards is fudged every review.

A typical problem occurs with two major sewage treatment works. Southern Water were complelled to provide a Full Scale Sewage Works for Brighton as far back as 1990 to meet the various Directives on Human Health and Bathing Beaches and Crustacean issues. This was the Town that recorded the last outbreak of Polio in the 1060s. All through the time it has been a Water Company it failed to address this issue but still charged the Water Rates Payers for this service...12 years without a sewage works for a coastal population of nearly 400,000. They rolled in the cash and built nothing claiming a response that the site was not right and went to look and study the results and used their Consulting Engineers to hide the details.Other towns cities Eastbourne Isle of Wight Shoreham (on the western edge of Brighton) Ramsgate etc in Southern Water were conveniently dealt with, but Brighton no. Will Brighton Water Rates Payers receive their 12 years of refunds due to them? The EU says that there is a good case for this to happen. Likewise North County Down is in the same situation. Nosewage works for 10 years and yet the charges to the Water Rates were still being carried by the Public. They deserve their refunds as well.

But if it is thought that this is just Ireland and the UK think again. All throughout the Mediterranean the same issue arises and across the EU. Building these under Private Ownership does not work. And to repeat the issue te French Britiah Danish German and Spanish Companies have continually touted these ideas across to South America Africa Se Europe Asia etc even to China and they are costing the earth. A Typical Privately-Financed (Owned) project costs 4 times as much to build and pay for as dealing with it directly.