In response to protests against the feared privatisation of drinking water in Germany, EU Commissioner Michel Barnier wants to exclude the water supply from the controversial EU Concession Directive.
“Although such a risk never existed, citizens have indeed gained this impression and expressed their views on the subject very clearly,” Barnier said in Luxembourg. “I therefore believe that it would be best to exclude water supply from the scope of the concessions directive.
Despite numerous changes, he said, “he came to the conclusion that the current text on water supply does not satisfy anyone: It does not provide the guarantees that citizens expect and, on top of that, it would lead to fragmentation of the internal market”, the Frenchman said.
The debate was triggered by Barnier’s plan to create uniform rules throughout the EU for the award of concessions for services such as water supply. According to the Commission, the aim is competition and equal opportunities between companies, but also better control over the use of taxpayers’ money in times of empty public coffers.
The Concessions Directive now mainly regulates the award of public contracts in the energy and heat sectors. Such tender documents are intended to prevent fiddling with public contracts.
In Germany, the plans had triggered fears that EU plans could lead to municipalities having to hand over their citizens’ drinking water supplies to private companies and thus losing control over price and quality. Chancellor Angela Merkel had warned against this. Consumer Minister Ilse Aigner expressed her satisfaction with the decision: Water is not a commodity like any other, but “our most important food”, she explained. Water supply is about the core of municipal services of general interest. This should be decided locally, not in Brussels. “It is good that the EU Commission has given in.
As part of the European Citizens’ Initiative for a Human Right to Water, more than 1.5 million people signed a call for free access to water and basic sanitation. The initiative also protested against EU legislative plans to liberalise water management. With more than one million people in seven EU countries signing, the initiative was now able to call on the EU Commission to act.