Righ2Water: The first-ever successful European Citizens’ Initiative

On 16 December 2020 the European Parliament adopted the Directive on drinking water, 2 months after its approval by the Council. Through this legislation the EU can endorse the provision of water and sanitation as essential public goods for all. The directive is the result of the European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) “Right2Water”, which was launched in order to bring the question of drinking water up to the political agenda of the EU.[1]

Despite that the ECI lost tens of thousands of signatures due to on-line system’s failure, it was able to collect more than 1.8 million signatures and it represents the first-ever successful citizen’s initiative.[2] More precisely, “Right2Water is the first European Citizens’ Initiative to have met the requirements set out in the Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council”.[3]

Moreover, over the last decade the right to safe drinking water and sanitation has been regulated at an international level. For instance, according to the UN General Assembly Resolution 64/292 “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”.[4] At a European level, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has also affirmed “that access to water must be recognized as a fundamental human right because it is essential to life on earth and is a resource that must be shared by humankind”.[5]

By taking under consideration the abovementioned excerpts, and the fact that in Europe approximately 2 million people do not have access to water or sanitation, the ECI highlights the need for water to be “available, accessible, affordable and acceptable for the people”.[6] Thus, governments can only guarantee access to water by law. Right2Water also emphasizes on the fact that human rights should be above market interests and that the liberalization of water services is not acceptable.[7]

Consequently, Member States shall guarantee that free water is provided in public buildings and encourage restaurants, canteens, and catering services to offer customers water for free or for a low service fee.[8] Besides, vulnerable groups are also facing obstacles in having access to water, like refugees or homeless people, and should be provided with free access to water. The European Commission also estimates that lower consumption of bottled water could help EU households save more than 600 million EUR per year.[9]

To continue, according to Sven Giegold MEP (Greens/EFA), shadow rapporteur for the Drinking Water Directive: “EU-wide clean drinking water is a great success for the initiative from civil society. We owe it to the efforts of civil society that our drinking water will be cleaner in the future…Many people will no longer have to buy bottled drinking water and can switch to tap water. Access to clean water is a human right that the supporters of the European Citizens’ Initiative have asserted this at the European level. This is a great step forward for civic engagement. Now it’s a matter of implementing the directive in all Member States. Mandatory public water dispensers must be installed quickly to ensure access for all”.[10]

In other words, the directive sets the following measures:

  1. updating the standards of water’s quality
  2. providing information to the citizens regarding access to water
  3. establishing a risk-based approach into monitoring water conditions
  4. revisioning the hygiene requirements applicable to materials, which come into contact with drinking water[11]

To conclude, Member States should make -within two years- the necessary modifications to comply with the directive’s measures. Furthermore, by 2022 the Commission will compose a “list of substances or compounds of public or scientific concern to health”, such as pharmaceuticals or microplastics, and indicate which are authorized to come into contact with drinking water. [12]

To summarize, civil society succeeded into making a change to EU’s political agenda by mobilizing the citizens into demanding a legislation for a fundamental human right- that of having access to drinking water! Righ2Water represents the first-ever successful ECI and constitutes the best example of what civil society is capable of achieving. 


[1]Righ2Water. “About the Campaign,” https://www.right2water.eu/about.

[2]European Parliament. “Parliament Adopts Deal to Improve Quality of Tap Water and Reduce Plastic Litter,” December 15, 2020. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20201211IPR93619/parliament-adopts-deal-to-improve-quality-of-tap-water-and-reduce-plastic-litter.

[3]European Commission. “COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION on the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Water and Sanitation Are a Human Right! Water Is a Public Good, Not a Commodity!,’” March 19, 2014.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Righ2Water. “About the Campaign,” https://www.right2water.eu/about.

[7]Ibid.

[8]European Parliament. “Parliament Adopts Deal to Improve Quality of Tap Water and Reduce Plastic Litter,” December 15, 2020. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20201211IPR93619/parliament-adopts-deal-to-improve-quality-of-tap-water-and-reduce-plastic-litter.

[9]Ibid.

[10]EU Reporter Correspondent. “Clean Water for the Whole EU.” Eureporter, December 16, 2020. https://www.eureporter.co/environment/2020/12/16/clean-water-for-the-whole-eu/.

[11]Collin, Charlotte. “Directive Sur l’eau Potable : Premier Succès d’une Initiative Citoyenne Européenne.” Dalloz Actualité, April 1, 2021. https://www.dalloz-actualite.fr/flash/directive-sur-l-eau-potable-premier-succes-d-une-initiative-citoyenne-europeenne#.X_Wmgi0RpQL.

[12]European Parliament. “Parliament Adopts Deal to Improve Quality of Tap Water and Reduce Plastic Litter,” December 15, 2020. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20201211IPR93619/parliament-adopts-deal-to-improve-quality-of-tap-water-and-reduce-plastic-litter.

Publié par HenriMalosse

Européen engagé et libre - Enseigne l'histoire de l'Europe - Chairman of TheVocalEurope -30ème Président du Comité Economique et Social Européen (2013-2015)

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