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European Commission


Brussels, 19 March 2014

Outcome of Right2Water ECI

Statement by Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič

  1. Ladies and gentlemen,

  2. I have come straight from the College meeting where, I'm delighted to tell you, my colleagues and I have decided to say yes to the very first successful European Citizens' Initiative, Right2Water.

  3. We have listened to the concerns which motivated citizens to make this call for action, and we are replying with a substantial list of commitments for the coming months and years.

  4. As a direct result of this first ever exercise in pan-European, citizen-driven democracy, water quality, infrastructure, sanitation and transparency will all benefit – for people in Europe and in developing countries.

  5. But we are not starting from zero. Over the years, an enormous amount has already been achieved in this field.

  6. To give you a concrete example: since 2007, more than 2.6 million people across nine different Member States have been provided with an improved supply of drinking water thanks to EU financial support.

  7. At the global level, the EU and its Member States currently provide around €1.5 billion every year for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene programmes in developing countries. This makes the Union the largest single donor in the water sector.

  8. Of course, we can always do more. And what the Commission has tried to do in light of this European Citizens' Initiative, is identify areas where more efforts − at EU or national level – need to be made.

  9. For instance, we agree with the ECI supporters that more could be done to improve the quality of drinking water for small supplies, which today provide water to more than 60 million people in the EU.

  10. As a result of the ECI we will launch an EU-wide public consultation on the drinking water legislation in view of improving access to quality water in the EU. No doubt this will lead to a revision of the existing legislation.

  11. Transparency can also play a key role in improving citizens' access to water and sanitation services. On this we also agree with the ECI supporters. We will make sure better information is available to empower citizens, by allowing them to follow and participate more actively in water management decisions that are − for the most part − taken at national, regional or local level.

  12. As requested, we will also invite Member States, acting within their competences, to ensure access to a minimum water supply to all citizens, in accordance with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation.

  13. The Commission also commits itself to ensuring that the human rights dimension of access to safe drinking water and sanitation - which must be of high quality, physically accessible, and affordable - continues to guide its future action.

  14. In international discussions, the Commission will give a voice to the concerns raised by EU citizens by advocating universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a priority area for future Sustainable Development Goals.

  15. The decision on how best to operate water services is firmly in the hands of the public authorities in the Member States. But in response to concerns raised by citizens about liberalisation of water services, the Commission confirms that the relevant internal market legislation does not apply when local authorities provide water services themselves.

  16. The Commission must also respect Treaty rules requiring the EU to remain neutral on national decisions governing ownership of water undertakings. This also means that in international trade negotiations, including with the US, the Commission will ensure that national, regional and local choices on how to run water services are respected and safeguarded.

  17. I only have time to highlight a few of the actions we decided to pursue today. Citizens were very ambitious in their demands, and we have been very ambitious in our response. So I invite you to read today's decision in full for a comprehensive overview.

  18. But one thing is clear: the European Citizens Initiatives are a success, and are now a permanent feature of the European political landscape. This is just the beginning.

  19. Thank you.

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