Unfortunately, the vote on 22nd October 2018 in the European Parliament did not deliver the demands of the citizens’ initiative “Right2Water” to the extent hoped for with regard to its transposition into EU legislation. Hence, the human right to clean and affordable drinking water for all Europeans has not been secured.
There are only two articles in the Revision of the Drinking Water Directive, which are decisive for enshrining the human right to water: the targets in Article 1 and the access to water in Article 13. Even if all sides insist that they want to implement the first successful Europe-wide citizens’ initiative “Right2Water”, in the end the exact wording is decisive as to whether the new Directive text is doing justice to the initiative.
The Committee on Environment responsible and the European Parliament debated for a long time whether the Directive shall provide or just promote universal access to water. The Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety decided in September in favour of the term to promote access to water - very much to the annoyance of all supporters of the citizens’ initiative. It is therefore even more pleasing that on 22nd October 2018 a narrow majority in the European Parliament voted in favour of providing access to water.
Another point of discussion was the uniform water testing frequencies proposed by the Commission for all drinking water providers. According to the AK, a country such as Austria that enjoys excellent water quality, and where water is provided by about 5,500 partly very small providers, could be faced with a 70-fold increase in costs. Hence, a broad majority in Parliament therefore voted in favour of an amendment, which provides for classifying drinking water providers according to size and relevant testing frequencies and costs. This is a positive decision for consumers in Austria and throughout Europe.
However, no majority was found with regard to securing the supply of a vital minimum quantity of water for human consumption for all citizens and under all circumstances. Parliament also does not require Member States to promote free drinking water in restaurants, canteens or in public places, let alone its actual implementation. That is why the draft on the Revision of the Drinking Water Directive adopted by Parliament does not meet the idea of the strongest imaginable enshrinement of a human right to clean and affordable drinking water for all Europeans. Hence, the opportunity to react appropriately to the request of two million Europeans, who signed the citizens’ initiative, has been missed.
A next step will be the trilogue negotiations between European Commission, Parliament and Council. As an agreement in the Council cannot yet been foreseen, the start of the trilogue negotiations also remains uncertain. Time is definitely very short to reach agreement before the EU elections.