Brussels, 19 March 2014
Commission says yes to first successful European Citizens' Initiative
The Commission today decided to react positively to the first ever successful European Citizens' Initiative, in those areas where it is able to act. Organisers of the Right2Water ECI called on the Commission to ensure that all EU citizens enjoy the right to water and sanitation, to exclude water supply and management of water resources from internal market rules and liberalisation, and to increase its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation around the world.
Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said: "Europe's citizens have spoken, and today the Commission gave a positive response. Water quality, infrastructure, sanitation and transparency will all benefit – for people in Europe and in developing countries - as a direct result of this first ever exercise in pan-European, citizen-driven democracy. I congratulate the organisers on their achievement."
The Commission's reaction is set out in a Communication which starts by outlining the enormous amount of work already done by the EU in the field of water and sanitation. For example, within the EU, it has set ambitious water quality standards, and provided financial support to expand and improve water infrastructure in Member States.
The decision on how best to operate water services is firmly in the hands of the public authorities in the Member States, and the Commission will continue to respect Treaty rules requiring the EU to remain neutral on national decisions governing ownership of water undertakings. Similarly, in international trade negotiations, the Commission will continue to ensure that national, regional and local choices on how to run water services are respected and safeguarded. The unique nature of water and sanitation services in satisfying the basic needs of the population have been consistently acknowledged in EU legislation. Water distribution and supply, as well as wastewater services, are already expressly excluded from the application of the cross-border freedom to provide services. And last year the Commission excluded provision of water services from the Directive on the awarding of concession contracts, as a direct result of public concerns.
Globally, the EU and its Member States currently provide close to €1.5 billion/year for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes in developing countries, making the Union the largest single donor in the world in this area.
In light of the European Citizens' Initiative, the Commission sought to identify any remaining gaps and areas where more efforts - at EU or national level - need to be made in order to address the concerns motivating this citizens' call for action. Today it committed itself to the following concrete steps and new actions in areas that are of direct relevance to the initiative and its goals:
The European Citizens' Initiative was launched in April 2012 as a powerful agenda-setting tool in the hands of citizens. It allows 1 million citizens from at least one quarter of EU Member States to invite the European Commission to take action in areas where the Commission has the power to do so. The first successful ECI, Right2Water, collected 1.68 million signatures, passing minimum thresholds in 13 Member States – far above the legally required minimum. Altogether, more than 5 million EU citizens have now signed up to more than 20 different initiatives.
Communication on the Right2Water ECI:
MEMO on EU international action on water and sanitation:
European Citizens' Initiative website: