The EU citizens’ initiative has been discredited following a lack of response on a petition that received 2 million EU citizen signatures

MEPs say that the European Commission’s “weak” response to the first EU citizens’ initiative (ECI) petition, on the “Right2Water”, could discredit the ECI system. Members of the assembly´s environment committee say it “lacks any real ambition and failed to meet the demands of the organizers.”

In a resolution adopted by the committee, members called on the Commission to table legislative proposals, if appropriate including a revision of the EU Water Framework Directive, in order to “recognise that affordable access to water is a basic human right.”

A report by GUE MEP Lynn Boylan was approved by 38 votes to 22, with 6 abstentions.

Boylan said, “I am absolutely delighted that the committee has adopted my recommendations on the European Citizen's Initiative on the Right2Water. Whilst I know that water can be a divisive issue, there was excellent cooperation between most of the groups on this important issue.”

“Almost 2 million citizens signed this ECI and the Commission's response was simply not good enough. Citizens have serious and legitimate concerns regarding the privatisation of water services which I have highlighted in my report. Water is a human right, not a commodity and should not be treated as such”,  added the Irish member.

ECIs enable citizens to ask the Commission to propose laws in areas within its competence, if they can muster at least one million signatures from at least a quarter of EU member states.

In February 2014, organisers of the “Right2Water campaign held a hearing with the environment committee, in association with the development, internal market and petitions committees.

They urged the Commission to guarantee access to water and sanitation as a human right and give a legal undertaking that water services will not be liberalised in the EU.

MEPs said then that access to water is a basic human right but some pointed out that rules on providing drinkable water remain within the remit of EU member states.

However, committee members now say they “regretted” that the Commission communication responding to the “Right2Water” ECI and the hearing last year “lacks any real ambition, does not meet the specific demands made in the ECI, and limits itself to reiterating existing commitments”.

Boylan, a Sinn Fein MEP who represents Dublin, added, “If successful and widely supported ECIs are neglected by the Commission, the EU as such will lose credibility in the eyes of citizens.”

MEPs pointed out that member states “have a duty” to ensure that access to water is guaranteed for all, regardless of the supplier and that suppliers provide safe drinking water and improve sanitation.

The EU should also remain neutral with regard to national decisions governing the ownership of water companies. Given that water suppliers provide services of general interest, these services should be permanently excluded from EU single market rules, deputies said.

They added that the special character of water and sanitation services, such as production, distribution and treatment, makes it imperative to exclude them from any trade agreements the EU is negotiating or considering.

The report will be put to a vote by Parliament as a whole at the 7-10 September plenary session in Strasbourg.

By Martin Banks

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