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[box] In the beginning of November, German citizens belonging to the “Water in public hands” movement sent an open letter to Angela Merkel asking her to intervene so that the privatization of water services in countries like Greece would freeze. In their letter they insist that the firm position of Germany regarding the non commercialization of the natural resource called water, a resource protected by the German Constitution should also be Germany’s policy for all Europe. We await an eventual response since the basic push for the privatization towards Greece comes from the EU Commission, as it is acknowledged recently by Oli Rehn’s directorate.[/box]
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The European Crisis will be exacerbated by a privatization of public services
With great concern and support for the common project of a united Europe, we do not only follow the Euro-crisis but also the austerity conditionalities imposed by the EU, ECB and IMF on countries such as Greece. In particular, the commissioned privatization of public goods, amongst them the water services, will not be favorable to the reconciliation of the Greek economy and will at best lead to a short-term decrease of debts. This is contrasted by the sell-off of core elements of public services which, with good reason, both in our constitution and in several EU treaties is given a high status. The federal government has stressed this elevated status of (German) water services in opposition to the European Commission’s strive towards liberalization and privatization more than once.
This view must be valid throughout the entire EU now and in the future, especially in the state of crisis. In contrast to this, we consider the privatisation conditionality of the “troika” as a threat to the European community and to the substance of public services. Even calculations by international accounting firms support the assumption that Greek’s public infrastructure will only be of interest for investors if sold far below its real value. For water services particularly, this would result in an expropriation of infrastructure that was built up over generations by citizen solidarity. The sell-off of municipal water services would, at the same time, imply a loss of economic, political and social policy space for municipalities.
In the cities where the privatization of water services is foreseen, Athens and Thessaloniki, opposition is emerging. The water service of these two cities covers about 45 percent of the Greek population. This opposition is just one in a long row of movements against privatization which in the last century has reached France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Rumania, and – not least – Germany. Next to the renationalisation in Paris, we refer to the example of Berlin where the partial privatization of the Berlin Water Works led to high costs for the city as well as the citizens, which cannot be sufficiently reversed.
The promises regarding the privatisation of water services, apart from little exemptions, have globally not been fulfilled – reason enough, not to follow them at the international level. The ideology of competition that the EU and IMF defend are not applicable to the water services sector because this is a natural monopoly which will also remain such in case of a change of ownership. A privatisation of water services will only contribute to the redistribution through the financial and shareholder sector. Therefore we would like to recommend to the federal government to engage in the protection of public water services throughout Europe.
We do not deny any self-made problems in the countries affected most by the crisis. In a joint effort with the public water utilities of our own country and with their successful record over generations, it would be a useful and confidence-building endeavour, to offer their technical and financial assistance to the Greek water utilities with its partial structural deficits. We would consider this a real contribution to the solution of the crisis in Europe.
About us: Wasser in Bürgerhand is a nation-wide alliance of local initiatives, which engage for the maintenance of a public and citizen-controlled water service, see www.wasser-in-buergerhand.de.
Markus Henn, Berlin
Hans-Werner Krüger, Hamburg
(on behalf of Wasser in Bürgerhand)
The same letter went to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Environment.