On 10th September 2018, the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) voted on the proposal on a recast of the Drinking Water Directive. The Citizens’ Initiative “Right2Water”, which had been supported by the Chamber of Labour, demands the enshrinement of a human right to clean and affordable drinking water for all Europeans. However, this demand was not as distinctly implemented as it would be necessary from the AK’s point of view. That is why improvements are needed for the plenary vote scheduled for October.
The most successful Citizens' Initiative of the European Union “Right2Water” was supported by over 1.8 million people, who called upon EU institutions to transpose the human right to water and basic sanitation into European law. This demand was affirmed on 4th September by supporters and initiators at an event hosted by the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour (AK), The Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) and the European Public Service Union (EPSU), who discussed the question whether the proposal on the new Drinking Water Directive sufficiently implements the Citizens’ Initiative “Right2Water”.
The Committee on Environment has been discussing the proposal on the Drinking Water Directive since March 2018; since then over 800 amendments have been submitted. It has been possible to achieve joint compromises for many of these amendments. However, a different story emerged concerning Article 1 and Article 13, which are vital for enshrining the human right to clean and affordable drinking water, as these regulate the scope of the Directive and the access to water. There were two different compromise proposals in both cases, whereby the compromises with a stronger right to water were submitted by factions of Social Democrats, Greens and the Left. However, both were unable to secure a majority. For this reason the formulation, which has now been adopted says that “the Directive shall promote universal access to water”, instead of that “the Directive shall provide universal access to water” as had been demanded by initiators and supporters of the Citizens’ Initiative. By not including the obligation to install drinking water fountains in public spaces for example, compulsory measures for Member States were also watered down. The compulsory provision of free tap water in conjunction with other orders, which was heavily criticized by the catering industry, has also been diluted. It is now permitted to request a small service charge.
However, the result of the Committee regarding the testing frequency for suppliers was positively rated by the AK. Here, a clear majority was secured in favour of a 5-stage classification of providers depending on the actually delivered water quantity and the number of consumers. At the AK event in the previous week, Iris Strutzmann had explained, that due to the Commission proposal costs would rise 70-fold, especially for small suppliers in Austria, without being accompanied by an improvement in quality. Therefore, the classification of very small drinking water providers up to very large providers with appropriate water control frequencies is an important decision for consumers to avoid unnecessary additional costs.
The vote in the European Parliament on this Directive proposal has been scheduled for 22nd October. The trilogue negotiations with the Commission will start once the positions in European Parliament and Council have been fixed. Due to the many technical details, which have to be renegotiated within the scope of the Commission proposal, a successful completion before the EU elections in May 2019 is unfortunately uncertain. The Chamber of Labour will continue to make sure that the key demands of the successful Citizen’s Initiative “right2water” will indeed be transposed into European law.