Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)?

A European Citizens' Initiative is a new tool for participatory democracy in Europe that has been available since 1 April 2012. Citizens can put an issue on the European political agenda by means of an ECI, which involves collecting one million signatures from at least seven different EU Member States. The European Commission wants citizens to play a more active role in European political processes.

2. Who is organising this?

A European Citizen’s Initiative has to be organised by at least seven people from seven different EU Member States. This group is called the citizens’ committee. Our citizens’ committee is largely formed by representatives of public service trade unions. The EPSU public services federation has  long campaigned for recognition of the human right to water and this ECI is a vital step in getting this right enshrined in legislation.

3. Why are you organising this?

We are taking up the challenge to get “implementation of the human right to water and sanitation” on the European political agenda. We want to get a public debate going and we want a shift in focus in European water policy. Until now the European Union's main aim is to create a single market in good and services. But water services are different.  They are essential for life and water is a limited natural resource. Water is not a commodity but a public good that must be safeguarded, not opened up for competition. The human right must be central in water policy, not competition or the completion of the internal market. Governments are obliged to provide these services. This is also what the United Nations agreed after several years of discussion. Governments have to implement these rights, not leave these services to market forces.

4. Who can sign?

All citizens that have a right to vote in one of the 27 EU Member States can sign this ECI

5. Why should I sign?

Because you agree with at least one of the goals we address in this ECI:

  • All citizens in the EU should have guaranteed water and sanitation services. At this moment there are still around 2 million people in Europe that do not have proper water or sanitation. There are also many people with low incomes that are threatened with disconnection as they cannot afford to pay their bills.
  • The European Commission should stop its constant push for liberalisation of water and sanitation services. Promoting the market to provide these services means that those who can afford more might get better services and those who can afford less will get worse services. “No money, no water” is what a market for water services means. But water and sanitation are a human right. It is a government obligation and responsibility to provide these services to all people.
  • Worldwide 800 million people still lack access to water and over 2 billion people do not have access to sanitation. Europe can do more and should do more to make sure that also in other parts of the world people can enjoy the human right to water and sanitation.

6. Who are the organisations behind this ECI?

    This ECI is supported by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU).  EPSU represents  275 trade unions and over 8 million workers in all kinds of public services in Europe. Other European or international organisations that support the initiative include the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN), European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF), and Public Services international, EPSU’s sister organisation at global level. At national level there are many more organisations supporting this ECI. You can see their logos at the bottom of the homepage of this site.

    7. Where can I sign this ECI?

    You can sign online on this website by clicking the SIGN NOW button or sign on paper. You can download a form to sign in your own language on the ‘About’ page. Max 10 people can sign on one paper form. Make sure that you fill in all fields. This is a requirement set by your government. If you don’t complete all fields, then your signature will not be valid for this ECI.

    8. When can I sign?

    Signing is possible until October 2013.  Make sure that all fields are filled in otherwise your signature will not be valid.

    9. What is the Human right to water? What does it mean?

    The human right to water and sanitation means that all people are entitled to have clean and safe water and sanitation. It must be available, accessible, affordable and acceptable for the people. These criteria can be different from country to country and even within a country.  It means that governments are responsible to make sure these services are delivered to all. That was agreed upon by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010. Governments have to implement these rights, not leave these services to market forces.

    10. Why is the human right to water and sanitation important?

    The most important aspect of the human right to water is that it empowers people. Water and sanitation, as rights, are no longer matters of charity which a government can give or take away.  They are human rights, which people can claim. States become more accountable, and once people know that they have this right, the entire dynamic changes as they hold the authorities to account.

    11. Why do you want guaranteed water services in the EU?

    Governments have to meet their obligation to provide water and sanitation services to all.  Nevertheless, sometimes governments think that markets will provide these services and leave it to market forces. But this only changes the way in which service are provided. Implementing the human right to water and sanitation means that governments have to ensure that these services are available, accessible, acceptable and affordable to all people. They can only do that by ensuring/guaranteeing this by law. 

    12. Why do you oppose liberalisation?

    Proponents of a market approach always promise cheaper and better services. This is a fairy tale, made up by the companies that make the biggest profits on a market. Reality shows that this means: better and cheaper services for the rich, but worse and more expensive services for the poor. For water services this is unacceptable. Competition means that water companies have to invest in marketing, advertising and in competing itself, all this money cannot then be invested into the services they are supposed to be providing.

    13. Do you exclude private companies?

    It is a government obligation to provide water and sanitation to its people. Governments decide how they organise their services. In most countries services are provided by public companies, in some countries by private companies. It doesn't matter as long as they deliver good quality services. We want good quality water and sanitation for all. Water services are public services. This means they should be available, affordable, acceptable and accessible for all. Private companies’ main goal is to make profits and this leads them to focus on providing a service where it is most profitable and on those who can afford more. It leads to neglect of areas where water services are not profitable and of those who are in the biggest needs.

    14. Is your aim to reverse privatisation?

    We want a change of focus and a shift in approach towards water and sanitation services in European policy. Water and sanitation are essential services for life and for the fulfilment of all human rights. Therefore the European Commission should focus on ensuring water and sanitation to all citizens in Europe and adopt a rights-based approach instead of its current market-based approach. The human right must be central in water policy, not the completion of the internal market. Governments also have an obligation to safeguard water resources for future generations. We have several practical proposals how the EU and Member States can meet their obligations; see ‘About’.

    15. Do you think water services should be for free?

    Everybody knows or should know that it costs money to produce (clean and safe) drinking water and sanitation and to transport and deliver it. The human right means that water and sanitation must be affordable for all. In some countries water services are paid for through taxation, in others through charges or through a mix. What we promote are social tariffs. The more you use the higher the price per m3. That is fair and in accordance with principles of social justice and solidarity. It will encourage people to be wise and not spoil precious (drinking) water for spraying the garden or cleaning the car. It also means that ordinary people should not be paying the bill for big industrial or agricultural users that extract or pollute water resources and make it more difficult for water companies to produce drinking water.

    16. Does the human right to water help the poor and people that are not connected to a system?

    We are arguing for more public spending to extend water and sanitation services to the poor. The human right to water obliges governments to ensure that everybody has (clean, safe, affordable, accessible) water and sanitation. That is contrary to a market-based approach that demands that people pay first for access to the service. You cannot ask the poor to pay upfront for connection to a water system. Putting the human right first helps the poor, a market for water doesn’t. There is a lot of evidence for this.

    17. Who is coordinating this Initiative?

    The public service unions are coordinating this campaign in each country. You can find contact details of each of the coordinators by clicking the 'about' button on top of this page.

    18. Whom can I contact to help collect signatures?

    Contact your national coordinator. Click 'about' and see the list of coordinators in each country. You can also approach one of the five federations: EAPN, EEB, EPHA, WECF or EPSU for more information.

    19. How does my signature help?

    We aim to achieve three goals by this ECI: guaranteed water and sanitation for all in the EU-27; no liberalisation of water services and universal access to water and sanitation. Of course this cannot be achieved with 1 million signatures only but this ECI is the first step to get it on the European political agenda and to make it happen.

    20. How many signatures do you need in one country?

    Check the minimum number of signatures per country here:

    21. What do you think the EU can do to achieve universal access to water and sanitation?

    The EU can make achievement of universal access to water and sanitation part of its development policy. Again it is a matter of focus. It is more important that people have good water and sanitation than that a country's trade policy is in favour of trade with Europe. The EU can make more funds available for improvement of water and sanitation services and the EU can promote public-public partnerships: i.e. cooperation instead of competition. We have several practical proposals that you can see in ‘About’.

    22. What can I do to support this ECI?

    You can raise awareness and promote this campaign by spreading information, talking to friends and other people or hosting an event about this ECI.  Use Facebook, Twitter or other means to let people know that you support this initiative. You can also help to collect signatures on paper: contact the national coordinator in your country to find out how and when signatures will be collected. Don't forget that, when people sign (and when you sign yourself), all fields must be filled in. This is a requirement set by your government. If all fields are not filled in, your signature will not be valid for this ECI.

    23. Who are in the citizens’ committee?

    We have 33 people in our citizens’ committee coming from all 27 EU Member States. For their names see ‘About’.

    24. What is the legal basis for asking the European Commission to act?

    The ECI must be within the powers of the European Commission. The powers of the European Commission are described in the Treaty of the (Functioning of) the European Union (TFEU), known as the Lisbon Treaty. Our ECI refers to articles 14 (on services of general interest) and articles 209 and 210 (on development cooperation) of the Treaty.