October 21st, 2012 • I have already noted in a previous weeklog that the weaker Eurozone countries are being used as a testing ground for the break-up of social provisions. See how far you can go before the people rebel. Now the lobbying watchdog ALTER EU has revealed that the Troika (the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) is also forcing these countries to privatise their water sector. According to the Lisbon treaty the Commission has no say in such a matter, but they are simply using the Troika to push through their neoliberal policies. High time, then, that everyone signed the Citizens Initiative establishing that access to water is a human right and cannot be left to the market: www.right2water.eu
On 17th October ALTER EU sent an angry letter to the ‘Super-Commissioner’ Olli Rehn, amongst whose responsibilities is ‘aid’ to the weaker Eurozone countries. After considerable urging he had admitted that he is forcing Greece and Portugal to privatise their water sector. The Lisbon Treaty and the Services Directive state expressly that the Commission must be neutral in relation to this question, but apparently when it comes to countries in crisis it would appear that other laws prevail.
There would still be a great deal to be said about this measure, if it was a matter of really helping these countries. There is, however, no question of that. A privatised water sector is demonstrably less efficient than a water sector run by the government, or a state agency. Moreover, water is so important to public health that it cannot be left to ‘the market’, or regulation of private water corporations must be so intensive that privatisation will simply cost more money, or unacceptable risks will be taken with water quality. In addition, the general argument goes here that privatisation by countries with their backs to the wall is ill-advised, as they invariably fail to get a decent price.
Rehn is in this instance showing the Commission’s true face. In the last few years they have stressed the freedom of national, regional and local authorities to regulate public services as they see fit, yet at the same time they are constantly coming forward with proposals which lead to further liberalisation. This applies to road transport, rail, public procurement, and if you listen to Rehn, it goes too for water. We must not let things go that far, so it’s important to sign the Citizens’ Initiative, instigated by, amongst others, the biggest public service union in the Netherlands, ABVA/KABO, aimed at preventing the state from withdrawing from the water sector. Water is a human right and the government must guarantee that right – in the interest of the health of every one of us.