(seminar co-hosted by the Public Interest Reseach Group. January 2008).
The seminar brought together over 50 water activists, unionists, academics and public water managers from across Europe. Here follows some highlights (a more detailed report will come later) :
The seminar started with a session exploring the meaning of ’publicness’
what do we mean by ’public water’ in Europe. That this is very important became clear in the course of the day when speakers from Stockholm, Scotland and elsewhere presented a worrying trend in European water management : political pressure making public-owned utilities outsource a wide range tasks to the private sector as well as embracing commercial approaches. Old-style privatisation is also far from gone, as the example of Georgia shows, where the government recently decided to fully sell off Tbilisi’s water systems to a Swiss investment group. The Turkish government, hosting the next World Water Forum (March 2009), seems set to privatise water systems in large cities and has even announced its intention to sell a number of important rivers ! A major theme during the seminar was the role of the European Union in promoting ’liberalisation’ of water delivery in Europe (see also the enclosed IPS article at the end of this message).
The seminar also highlighted a very different and inspiring trend emerging in several Western European countries of rolling back privatisation after having experienced the problematic impacts. The Italian parliament recently voted in favor of a moratorium on water privatisation ; over 40,000 people demonstrated in Rome in December for remunicipalising water in those cities where the services where privatised during the Berlusconi government. In France, the very heartland of water privatisation, a fast-growing citizens’ movement is calling for remunicipalisation and with increasing success. Many of the 30-year private water concessions run out in the next year and numerous cities are chosing to turn their back on privatisation. A major battle with tremendous symbolic importance will take place in 2008, when the decision is made about the future of water management in Paris (currently in the hands of Suez and Veolia). Another highlight of the seminar was the presentation by Christian Legro, chair of Aqua Publica Europea, the new federation of public water utilities. The launch of Aqua Publica Europea is a very significant development and might mean that there will finally be a strong and confident voice from the public water sector itself resisting the privatisation and commercialisation agenda. Two public water managers made indepth presentations on specific examples of progressive public water management in Europe. Bert Roebert introduced Waternet, the municipal water company of Amsterdam, the first water company in Europe covering the whole water cycle. Jaime Morell, director of the provincial consortium for water delivery in Seville (Spain), presented the impressive efforts undertaken to create a stronger, more transparent and more participatory public water company for the whole province. Morell described this transformation as a "political project", which also includes taking on the existing private concessions in the province.
As part of the strategy discussions during the seminar, the decision was made to accelerate the creation of a European Water Network, inspired by the strong regional water activist networks in other continents such as Latin America and Africa. The aim is to officially launch this pan-European network during the European Social Forum in September 2008 (in Malmö, Sweden). The European RPW network is just one of a larger number of national and regional networks that will join hands in this new network of networks.
Turkish activists introduced the plans for organising an alternative forum during the next World Water Forum in Istanbul, March 2009. A large symposium with international speakers is being prepared around the time of World Water Day 2008 (end of March), as a first major step in the preparations for 2009.
Follow-up plans were also developed on specific issues including how to challenge the neoliberal approaches of the EU institutions and how to promote progressive water delivery systems (progressive public water, PUPs, remunicipalisation). Working groups are being started up to advance these follow-up plans ; these are open for anyone wanting to join. A vision document with an Action Plan for the European RPW network is currently under discussion ; also, a specific listserve for the European RPW network was established. Much more information will follow in the next weeks !
Olivier Hoedeman (part of the seminar organising team, together with Philipp Terhorst, Tommy Kane, Shona Russell, Orsan Senalp, Abel Esteban, Kyle Mitchell and others)