EU Commission backs down after successful “Water is a Human Right” ECI

Darren mail at
Sun Jun 23 16:10:36 BST 2013

Initiative for the
European Citizens' Initiative

EU Commission backs down after successful “Water is a Human Right” ECI – 
water now excluded from EU directive
22.06.2013 | Comments Off


Reacting to the massive protests against the threat of public water 
supplies being privatised, EU Commissioner Michel Barnier has stated 
that “the best solution” now appears to be “to remove water from the 
scope of the concessions directive” (full statement here). The 
Commission is thus bowing to the political pressure which millions of EU 
citizens and many NGOs have generated over recent months. More than 1.6 
million EU citizens gave their signatures of support to the demand for 
free access to water and the public provision of a basic sanitory 
infrastructure presented by the first successful European Citizens’ 
Initiative “Water is a Human Right”.

The initiative was also protesting against the EU’s plans to push 
through legislation to allow for the ‘liberalisation’ (privatisation) of 
water. Since more than a million people in seven EU countries supported 
the initiative, the initiators can now require the EU Commission to 
respond on the issue. The “statements of support” will be turned in for 
validation on September 9th (see our interview with the German 
validation authorities) and officially submitted to the Commission this 
autumn. A public hearing on this issue will then follow at the European 
Parliament with the EU Commission present.

EU Commissioner Barnier listening to citizens’ protest

Barnier stated that it was not the Commission’s intention to produce 
legislative proposals that would lead to the privatisation of water 
services: “Even though there has been no such risk, the fact is that 
citizens have thought there was and they have made very clear their 
views on the issue. I fully understand why citizens are both angry and 
upset when they are told their water services might be privatised 
against their will. I would feel the same if there was such a risk.” 
With explicit reference to the ECI “Water is a Human Right”, Barnier 
conceded “that the text we now have relating to water is not 
satisfactory for anyone: it does not provide the reassurances that 
citizens expect and it creates fragmentation in the single market. That 
is why the best solution now appears to be to remove water from the 
scope of the concessions directive.”

Protests particular strong in Germany

As the distribution of signatures shows, most supporters of the ECI 
“Water is a Human Right” come from Germany. While in many EU countries 
this issue is still marginal, the German media have been reporting about 
it for months (see here with English subtitels). In Germany the EU plans 
had aroused fears that local authorities would be forced to sell off 
their water distribution services to private companies, thus losing 
control of both costs and quality. In consequence the German umbrella 
organization of municipalities and cities as well as Chancellor Merkel 
herself had warned of this. Consumer affairs minister Ilse Aigner 
expressed her pleasure at the EU decision: water was not a commodity 
like others, “but the most vital substance for life”. The public water 
supply was at the heart of essential municipal services. Decisions on it 
should be made locally, not in Brussels. “It’s good that the EU 
Commission has given in on this”.

First Successful ECI Despite Massive Legal and Technical Barriers

With more than 1.6 million collected signatures, this initiative is the 
first ECI in European history to have succeeded in collecting the 
required minimum number of signatures. The organizers of the ‘Water is a 
Human Right” initiative are to be congratulated all the more as they had 
to manage their campaign under extraordinarily difficult conditions. 
Thousands of signatures were lost due to major defects in the online 
collection system offered by the European Commission.

Not only technical problems have plagued the ECI; also the strict legal 
framework has made the success of this initiative remarkable. 
Campaigners report that EU citizens living outside of the EU cannot sign 
initiatives and people are generally reluctant to sign ECIs in countries 
that require IDs. 17 member states ask their citizens for personal 
identification numbers when signing an ECI. Such requirements are 
unnecessarily intrusive, raise privacy concerns and deter individuals 
from engaging in the democratic process. It is no coincident that most 
signatures were collected in member states with no ID number 
requirements. While the European Data Protection Supervisor concluded 
that ID card numbers are unnecessary for the purpose of an ECI, it is 
nonetheless mandatory in the majority of member states.

In 2015 the ECI rules will be officially reviewed. The ECI Campaign will 
therefore intensify its campaign efforts for a citizen-friendly design 
of the ECI right that should become as widely accessible as possible to 
citizens. See our latest proposals on how to change the ECI regulation here.

More Background:

– Website “Water is a Human Right” at

– Statement of European Commission

- A Special Feature by the ECI Campaign: “Right 2 Water Initiative 
Pioneering the million, targeting transnationality, changing policy”

- For more information contact: ECI Campaign Coordinator Carsten Berg 
berg at

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