A few weeks ago the World Water Week was arranged here in Stockholm. It is a big event which is well known among the water establishment around the world. The first World Water Week was arranged 16 years ago.. To begin with it was essentially a meeting for technicians and experts but now it has also become a political arena, dominated by an unspoken neo liberal agenda.
This year international water activists together with Swedish water activists challenged the Stockholm World Water Week in different ways. For instance we arranged a public meeting to present and discuss what is going on in the water sector.. At our meeting it was apparent that all of us, both in the north and in the south, are attacked by different efforts to privatize and commercialize our water and sewage systems. We are attacked within EU, and the rest of the world is attacked by the EU - that is the European water companies and the EU water polices behind which we can find neolibeeral assumptions, which means: that water should be a commodity distributed by private companies on an deregulated market.
After this meeting we have been talking about ESF 2008 and we agree that it is important to highlight the water issues at Malmö next September. I want to quote Olivier Hoedman who is coordinating the
”Reclaiming Public Water Network”. He says:
”There have been quite ambitious activites on water issues at the ESF in Paris and to a lesser degree in London (and to a much lesser degree in Athens), but while each of these were useful my feeling is that none of these ESF events really did much to create stronger pan-European networks/movements. So, if we analyse well what went wrong at previous events, ESF 2008 could be the event where we make a
great leap forward.
Importantly, ESF 2008 will be just over six months before the World Water Forum in Istanbul (March 2009), where we very much hope to have a counter-forum that is even much stronger than the one in Mexico City in 2006. During the WSF in Nairobi 2007, the goal was defined even more ambitously: "we will challenge the illegitimate World Water Forum, Istanbul March 2009. We pledge to replace this illegitimate forum, controlled by the undemocratic and corporate-biased World Water Council. The movements will collectively propose and organise a truly democratic and representative Global Water Assembly."
All of this needs to be defined more clearly, but in any case, ESF 2008 could and should become an important stepping stone in the mobilisation and preparation for this event.
Furthermore, Tommy Kane, who is a researcher in the water field at the university of Stathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland and who participated in our activities in August here in Stockholm, has let us know that there will be arranged a Reclaiming Public Water Network meeting, probably in Brussels in January. There will be seminars with different speakers and discussions about campaigning priorities etc . I think that this meeting will be a very appropriate occasion to intensify our preparatory work before ESF in september.
Just a few thoughts about the content of a possible water item at the ESF.
I think it is suitable to assume that on the whole there are two different aspects to be investigated and discussed at ESF. One is: what is happening inside EU, The other is: What about EU water policies
directed outside EU.
Within EU we know about some important courses of events. Here in Stockholm, for instance, the new right wing regime is attacking Stockholm Water Company with an aggressive privatizing agenda – as it is forbidden by law to sell out the company there will be a commercialisation with more subtle methods. The same process is on its way in Scotland. In Nothern Ireland is the UK government trying to impose commercialisation and new charges and this is strongly opposed by the public including all the political parties In Italy, thanks to a very strong people’s movement, they are legislating to make water privatisation illegal. In Germany there are campaigns against water privatisation by the main trade union, Verdi, and by local communities e.g. in Leipzig; In Bulgaria there are continuing problems
with privatization in Sofia.
Because of the localised nature of water policy issues, however, many struggles and campaigns are not articulated or spread aorund Europe Philipp Terhorst points out – he is working at Loughbourogh University,
Leicester, England and is also very active in Reclaiming Public Water Network. A task during the ESF, he says, could be to vissualize the diversity of struggles and create a collective space to overview and exchange on these realities. ESF can facilitate and stimulate coordination, collective learning, exchange and cross-fertilization (See the comments from Philipp Terhorst below).
It is also very important to discuss and act coordinated upon the framework of rules and regulations within EU, for instance Water Framework Directive. I want to quote Jan Willem Goudrian, who is
Deputy General Secretary of EPSU - the European Federation of Public Service Trade Unions. He says that he, and EPSU, is very concerned that the Commission will push commercialisation through what are essentially positive instruments such as this water framework directive, the fight against waste of water... The Commission is very focused on this and a group of people which follows this would be helpful.
At last some words about what should be discussed regarding EU water policies which have impacts outside the union andhow we can contribute to the struggkles and campaigns in the south and our European neighburs. Here I think we can start from the statement made by over 60 civil and labour organizations on World Water Day, March 22nd, 2007.. The statement demands of the European Commission that it:
Stops using aid money to facilitate private sector involvement.
Drops requests for market access within trade talks.
Greatly increases aid and public investment in the sector.
Supports the development of strong public utilities in the Global South through ‘public-public partnerships’ that enable the exchange of expertise between public providers, working hand-in-hand with local communities.
I hope that this short presentation is enough to let you know that the water issues are very important to address at ESF next year, and that we will be able to carry out a very interesting and substancial activity.
I think that the ESF will inspire several organizations in Sweden to participate in this process. I think of Attac, of course, but also of the trade unions, above all Kommunalarbetareförbundet, whose chair, Ylva Thörn, is also the chair of the global PSI – Public Services International, and of solidarity movements and groups, for instance The Africa groups, the UBV which targets Latin America, FIAN Sweden – FoodFirst Information and Action Network. And, of course, I hope that many organisations in other European countries also will come together to plan and realize an inspiring program in Malmö next year.
/Lasse Karlsson, Attac Sweden
”Quick comments” from Philipp Terhorst:
Issues at the ESF 2008 and initial proposals of how to deal with them:
1) Local and national struggles against privatisation, commercialisation, corruption, governance liberalisation and for the human right to water and the democratisation of public services:
Coordination, collective learning, exchange and cross-fertilization .... because of the localised nature of water policy issues, many struggles and campaigns are not articulated or spread around Europe. A task during the ESF could be to visualise the diversity of struggles and create a collective space to overview and exchange on these local realities... many local struggles are happening without broader networking on a European level, the ESF could try to remedy this.
2) European level coordination of national civil society responses and trans-European networking: 1) EU policy on internal market liberalisation concerning water services, water resource governance, 2 )EU trade and development policy:
Also coordination, collective learning, exchange and cross-fertilization and also forming of mixed actor coalitions to address these issues in concerted campaigns
3) International solidarity with the political South and European Union neighbours:
Learning from their struggles, active solidarity campaigns, facilitation of technical support (ie through public-public partnerships)
4) building bridges between sectors of civil society and public sector bodies (i.e. single utilities, managers, research institutions, professional bodies) ... sector reform depends on the construction of a common platform of understanding to challenge current neoliberal policies and at the same time the construction of capacities to be able to enter policy making and implementation. For this to happen, NGOs, unions, public administration staff, utilities etc will need to find new ways of coordination and collaboration.
5) The ESF should be a point to crystallise the ongoing construction of a collective new discourse on democratisation
of public water, and of a practice of active solidarity amongst unions, movements and utilities.
Comments of embedding the ESF process in ongoing network and campaign activities:
The ESF occurs in a context in which network building at a European level has proven difficult, a fact that should be addressed at the 2008 ESF.
Also, the ESF stands in a line of international events and should be understood as one step, embedded in ongoing process around single campaigns on concrete privatisations (Manila, Cochabamba, etc) and international institutions (World Bank) and organisations (PFIAF), regional and transnational network building (RedVida, African Water Network, Friends of the Human Right to Water, Reclaiming Public Water etc) and broader networks on public services (one important one coming out of Athens).
So the ESF needs to be sensitively organised in order to support these processes and bring together the different clusters of organisations that so far during ESFs have shown certain resistance to collaborate. Importantly, the creation of a European wide horizontal network could be a crucial step forward. This will need however serious and longterm preparation leading up to the ESF.