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EU backs right to clean water and sanitation - 19/03/2014

Circle of leaves in water, forming EU flag © EU

The Commission will step up efforts to improve water quality, infrastructure and sanitation, following success of first European Citizens’ Initiative.

Right2Water is the first ever successful campaign under the European Citizens’ Initiative, a scheme launched in April 2012 which enables EU citizens to ask the Commission to propose legislation in areas where the EU has powers to act.

Organisers of the initiative collected 1.89 million signatures from across Europe supporting their aim of ensuring that all EU citizens enjoy the right to clean water and sanitation.

They also called for

  • exemption from single market rules and liberalisation for water supply and management of water resources
  • increased efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation around the world.

EU-level action

Although it is not proposing new EU rules at this time, the Commission has identified a number of concerns that need addressing which are of direct relevance to the initiative and its goals. It has committed itself to:

  • stepping up efforts to improve implementation of EU laws by national governments
  • improving data management and dissemination of information for citizens
  • exploring best practices and promoting dialogue and partnerships in the water sector
  • improving the transparency and accountability of water service providers
  • advocating universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation
  • launching an EU-wide consultation on drinking water rules to assess the need for improvements.

No privatisation of services

The operation of water services currently rests with public authorities in EU countries and the Commission says it will remain neutral and respect national, regional and local decisions on how to run water services.

In accordance with the Right2Water Initiative’s goals, water distribution and supply will continue to be exempted from single market rules and liberalisation. Last year the Commission also expressly stated it would exclude water from the Concessions Directive , to assuage concerns it was trying to privatise water by the back door.

The European Citizens’ Initiative

So far more than 5 million EU citizens have signed over 20 separate initiatives. These must garner the support of at least 1 million people in at least one quarter of EU countries before the Commission can be asked to propose new rules.

Press release - Commission says yes to first successful European Citizens’ Initiative


European Citizens' Initiative

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