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Jul 21 2010
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The campaign to hold a referendum against a recent law privatising water services in Italy has drawn to a close with over 1.4 million signatures deposited at the supreme court of cassation in Rome. This is nearly one million more than are needed to call a referendum and, according to campaigners, represents a huge success for democracy and civic participation in Italy.

The campaign was organised by the Forum Italiano dei Movimenti per l’Acqua, a network of national associations and local committees that are opposed to a 2009 law requiring greater participation by private investors in the management of water services, which is still largely the prerogative of local authorities.

From 2012 water supplies must be managed exclusively by private companies or by mixed public-private enterprises where the private investor holds at least 40 per cent. In addition local authorities with a stake in utilities listed on the stock exchange are asked to reduce their shareholding gradually to a maximum of 30 per cent by the end of 2015. Proponents say the law is needed to improve efficiency in the system, which currently loses on average 30 per cent of its water through leaky pipes and theft. However critics argue that water is a common good and a universal right and that as such it cannot be subject to the laws of the free market.

The signatures now have to be validated by the court of cassation and the referendum proposal approved by the constitutional court before voting can take place. If all goes to plan campaigners hope the referendum will be called in spring 2011.

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