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PrivatisationAlternatives / ReformsPublic-Public PartnershipsFinancing Public Water
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Jun 24 2004
Supplied or written by aleksej scira
"Seminar Commercialisation vs Public Services - Taking Action. The Role of
Citizens. Campaign Strategies against the Privatisation of Water", European
Social Forum, Paris, 13-14 November 2003.

Svetlana Slesarenok (MAMA-86. Ukraine) talked about the growing privatisation of water services in the Ukraine - a policy that is imposed via pressure from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). MAMA-86 are trying to counter the myth of promised investment with information gathered online on the negative impact of privatisation in other countries. Information on negotiations with Suez were kept out of the public realm for over two years and not even the public water company knew about plans to privatize. This led to big demonstrations. The EBRD gave a loan over $64 mio conditional on foreign investment and actually refused a local company. Svetlana also called for international solidarity in the struggle against Suez and for campaigning against the pro-privatisation bias of the EBRD.

Jacques Perreux (ACME France) reminded us that the big water TNCs originate in France and that water is a human right which is not enjoyed by a quarter of the world's population. He said that it has been shown that the price of water can go down when private utilities are transformed into public ones. Jacques mentioned that water for all could be achieved for just 1% of GDP, which could be realized by reducing military expenditure. Furthermore he said there is a need for more transparency around TNCs. Also, we should counter the increasing centralization where one company provides services all across the board. Distribution should be decentralized and there is scope for real international solidarity by fighting French TNCs at home. If public utilities can be turned into private ones, the other way round is possible as well. Local decision making is where our power lies. In France 300 cities have declared themselves GATS-free zones, which is something to build on.

Thierry Adam (ATTAC France) spoke of ATTAC's campaign to be launched in France where 80% of water is in private hands but 4000 contracts are to be renegotiated. This is a chance to go back to direct public management. For this to happen they have to bring together technical expertise to counter the privatisation argument and popular education to get more people involved. Public management needs politicians who have technical expertise so they understand the issues at hand. What is more urgent at the moment, though, is to slow down privatisation at the European level. He pointed out that the EC is planning to issue a new EU Directive to open Europe's water up to competition and he reminded us of the continuing threat of GATS.

Carla Montemayor (Bantay Tubig, Philippines) said her aim of being at the ESF was to establish a connection between privatisation in Manila and what people in Europe can contribute to their campaign. In 1997 Suez through its subsidiary Ondeo won what was then the world's biggest privatisation with the promises to bring in finance to invest in the pipe network and that they would be able to operate it more efficiently. Last October there was a cholera outbreak that killed 6 people and hospitalized 600. The outbreak happened because Suez neglected the pipenetwork. Other indications of Suez' failure are that the price of water has quadrupled and that they did not expand the network to urban poor as they promised they would. Last December Suez decided to pull out of Manila. An arbitration panel decided that Suez had to pay the $120 mio in concession fees it still owes the Philippine government. Although the arbitration process lasted nine months, disappointingly, no guilt had been established. Clearly, Suez and its local partner shoud be held accountable.

Carla ended with four suggestion for international solidarity, starting with three pressure points. Firstly, there is Suez and the need to get them out of Manila and to link this campaign to others in Jakarta and Buenos Aires. Secondly, there is a need to put pressure on the European Union and the French government which maintains a strong lobby in the Philippines for Suez to stay in Manila. A third target for international pressure should be the multilateral and the international financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the World Bank. An additional point for international solidarity campaigning is the development of alternatives. This is needed so we have something to offer in order to move forward.

Ricardo Petrella (Comite International Pour le Contrat Mondial de l'Eau, Italy) introduced a declaration for Water as a Human Right he is working on that should be signed by opinion leaders and presented on 10 December in Rome. Efforts are being made to get a paragraph on water as a human right into the European Constitution. He emphasized the need for water activists to also fight against growing poverty. There is a campaign to eradicate poverty and declare it illegal. He also highlighted the destructiveness of intensive agriculture and the commodification of water through bottling of water. Subsidies of the Common Agricultural Policy should be re-directed towards water infrastructure. To ensure that services remain public it is necessary to invent new forms of public finance and he went on to suggest a world tax system for that end. He argued for the reclaiming of democracy and decision making power being taken by citizen's councils. He also floated a proposal for a World Assembly on water in 2006.

David Boys (Public Services International, UK) spoke of PSI's work on reforming public service management and their efforts against EC-driven liberalization initiatives. Their water campaign aims to resist corporate takeover and to create citizen based models. It is important to know who is making decisions as TNCs often act behind the scenes. By targeting decision making bodies it has become possible to problematise privatisation in institutions such as the World Bank. It is also important to work with local managers and workers and to facilitate connections with other workers and mangers because this is where the actual know-how lies. In this way workers can cooperate and Public-Public Partnerships can be built. This also needs the creation of political pressure in cities which has to be maintained through the election cycles.

David Boys also gave a quick overview and summary of the 'Commercialization vs Public Services Round 1' seminar held earlier. Points raised in that meeting were: The need to strengthen networks, community based action, need to raise profile of water for EU elections, prevent water in GATS, prevent EU directive, help municipalities to develop tools, examine tariff policies, get and keep the mandate of the people, fight the setting of global standards by TNCs via the ISO, campaign for Tobin Tax, do more gender analysis, and have a Human Rights approach to campaign issues.

Olivier Hoedeman (Corporate Europe Observatory) gave a quick summary of action oriented points arising from a strategy workshop on water held Friday morning by the groups that co-organised the ESF water pole. He announced a three-step plan: Firstly, the People's World Water Forum in Delhi and immediately afterwards the World Social Forum on Mumbai are important opportunities for strengthening our networking and joint work. Secondly, the ESF will call for a global day of a action against neo-liberal policies. On !5 February 2004 there will be actions against GATS and EC-driven liberalization of water in the EU. Finally, there will be a whole week of action from 14-22 March 2004. This week was chosen because it includes the global day of action against big dams (14 March), international consumers action day which in 2004 chooses to focus on water (15 March), the global anti-war demonstrations around the one-year anniversary of the Iraq war (20 March), and actions against water in GATS on the UN's World Water Day (22 March).

After this the meeting was opened to interventions from the floor. Immediately there was an energetic call by Sylvie Cabrit to build a website together that could serve as a central portal for water campaigners and others. She also called for an international day of action, a joint platform and a name for the emerging coalition.

Anil Naidoo (Council of Canadians) got a surprising show of hands when he did a random poll on how many people in the room actually worked on water. He suggested several possible targets: Water TNCs such as Suez and Vivendi, the EU, trade agreements and especially their service aspects, International Financial Institutions and the WTO, general apathy and the need to engage people, and alternatives of delivery as well as financing. He invited water activists to the People's World Water Forum in Delhi on 12-15 January 2004 which will have a strategic focus (

Thorsten Arnold (Gruene Liga Germany) said that we should create an info-network right now. He also stated that groups like ATTAC Germany who value a flat and open decision making structure can principally not join coalitions built on hierarchies and that this should be taken into consideration when planning joint activity. He suggested that common campaigns need common principles and these should be grassroots and not about famous people running things.

Wenona Hauter (Public Citizen, US) spoke about the growing movement against privatisation of water services in the US. She cited several examples of failed privatisations such as Atlanta where Suez was forced to back out. She also told us about the recently formed Red VIDA network linking North and Central American activists and a meeting to be held in Miami following the ESF.

A speaker from Green Cross said that the top priority should be to double investment in water and that there should be a citizen convention.

Clare Joy (World Development Movement, UK) talked about their GATS campaign and that the EU is pushing for countries to open up their water sector in the GATS negotiations. She then went on to say that the EU position is increasingly fragile. Summing up the outcomes of a strategy meeting on water in Amsterdam in October she said we should keep up the demand to take water out of GATS, that we need more parliamentary activity both on national and European level, and that an international day of action throughout Europe should be held. A possible date for this is World Water Day 22 March 2004.

Alberto from Argentina took notice that there were several union representatives present at the seminar. He also underlined that the sanitation workers union in Argentina is responsible for privatisation.

David Hall (Public Services International Research Unit) had two campaign suggestions. One was to work against the European Development Bank and the second to present the European Commission with key demands such as 'water out of GATS' and a campaign against the threats of water liberalization. In terms of alternatives to privatisation he asked Thierry Adam to make the ATTAC training pack for French politicians more widely available. Then he asked everybody present to contribute to a selection of simple accounts of working models.

Jan Willem Goudriaan (European Public Services Union) said that the European Commission is planning to use single market and competition rules to open the European water market. We should prevent this from becoming a directive, the deadline for which is January / February 2004.

Al-Hassan Adam (National Coalition against Privatisation, Ghana) talked on the crucial issue of finance and that the World Bank should give more for public sector projects. He also said that it is time for citizens to take the power back and to force this zealot public institutions to give public money back.

Svetlana Slesarenok (MAMA-86, Ukraine) urged that we need to bring to light evidence about the work of TNCs and that we have to start prosecuting banks. She called for joint campaigning against the EU Water Initiative, which she called a programme for EU expansion of water privatisation. She also proposed a stronger focus on the role of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank and their procedures for public participation. The goal should be to prevent companies like Suez to gat any loans due to their bad reputation. Finally she suggested that there is a need for civil society exerts that can help countries that only now start to face the threat of water privatization.

Thierry Adam (ATTAC France) said that there are networks in existence at least since the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre but they need strengthening. The question of how to get to action is one of strengthening the citizen's presence. He also asked what it means to have a water parliament.

Ricardo Petrella (Comite International Pour le Contrat Mondial de l'Eau, Italy) in closing raised two issues: He suggested that on one hand we should replace the WB and IMF with a World Cooperative Fund, something like a Cooperative World Bank. On the other hand democracy needs to be organized at a global level. At the same time decision making power must stay at the localities which must be represented in the greater scheme of things.

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