Is the trade unions’ first European Citizen Initiative a success?



Europe’s public service unions, represented by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), were the first to successfully organize a European Citizen Initiative (ECI), called Right2Water.

Its core demands are:


  • Human right to water and sanitation has to be legally implemented in the EU
  • EU has to stop pushing for liberalization of water in member countries and trade agreements
  • EU has to do more to ensure access to water and sanitation worldwide

ECI allows citizens from the EU to ask the European Commission to introduce a legislation, on the condition that the initiative collects one million signatures in seven member countries.

With 1.9 million signatures from 13 countries, Right2Water far outreached this criterion.

The campaign had already shown some momentum, when it pushed the Commission to exclude water supply and sanitation from a directive that could facilitate market access to services in June 2013.

The public hearing on the issue in the European Parliament on 17 February 2014 was also a success, adding to the expectations regarding the European Commission’s response to the initiative.

However, what the Commission released on 19 March 2014 lacks concrete commitments that the right to water will be implemented in European law. There is also no commitment to exclude water services from trade agreements such as TTIP.

Nevertheless, some aspects are worth focusing attention. The response stresses autonomy of national governments and local authorities when it comes to water services, which is interesting to hear from an institution that, as a part of the TROIKA, tries to force the Greek government to privatize them.

Besides this, the commitment to promote access to water in development policies through public-public partnerships can be seen as a positive aspect, as it indicates a turn away from the promotion of public-private partnerships. Also the announcement of public consultations on the revision of the Drinking Water Directive must be welcomed and can be used to strengthen citizens’ voice.

Even though the response of the Commission is limited, the campaign “Right2Water” is a success. The ECI’s demands will be an important issue in the forthcoming European elections in May and draw attention to the future of goods and services that affect everyone. Also, having gathered such an amount of signatures means that unions have not only involved members, but also reached out.

Furthermore it proves that it is possible to organise an alternative society to the one based on capitalist logic.

In the case of water as a common good, trade unions have been aware of the need to defend it and the ECI Right2Water is therefore grounded on existing experiences and successes in mobilizing, cooperating and lobbying.

This has to be kept in mind in the future when trade unions wish to discuss further European Citizen Initiatives.