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Water supply, waste disposal and co. – Concession Directive shall now be waved through at high speed

In spite of the massive criticism by civil society, representatives of municipalities and communities as well as by labour organisations such as the Austrian Chamber of Labour or the Austrian Trade Union Federation ÖGB, MEPs of the Internal Market Committee in the European Parliament yesterday voted in favour of a fast track procedure to enable them to complete the negotiations on the so-called Service Concession Directive as soon as possible. However, the debate with the competent Conservative Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier showed that the protests are beginning to take effect: the Commissioner agreed to amend the Directive text with regard to water.

In the end, the discussion concerning the Directive on the award of concession contracts became increasingly blunt, resulting in the fact that in particular Germany and Austria reject the legislative proposal. The proposal does not only relate to water supply and disposal, but also other important public services such as waste disposal, energy supply or healthcare services. The Directive could affect all these services.

Supporter are right when they point out that the Directive does not at all mention the privatisation of services; nor is there any pressure to privatise water supply or waste disposal. The approach of the Commission is far more sophisticated: firstly, the legal text is drawn up in such a way that some municipalities could reach the conclusion that it would be better to invite tenders for services from private companies straight away rather than being sued later because they might not have complied with possible rules for the public provision of these services. This leads to the second point, which underlines the ingenuity of the Commission: if the public sector wants to provide certain services such as water supply itself, it has to comply with a newly knitted tight corset of conditions. If a municipality is not able to or does not want to comply with these conditions, it must put these services out to tender. Hence, there is no direct obligation to privatise; however, there are many cases, where the result is an invitation to tender, which was actually not intended, but where the contract is inevitably awarded to private corporations.

That the first European Citizens' Initiative "Water is a Human Right - Right 2 Water" with over a million signatures and the massive protests by the Chamber of Labour, ÖGB and many other European trade union federations and non-governmental organisations bear fruit at least to a certain degree, was confirmed by a statement, EU Commissioner Barnier made yesterday. According to him, the tight corset of conditions for the public provision of water supply and disposal shall be relaxed at least in parts. He could also imagine expressing right at the beginning of the Directive that it did not concern the privatisation of the water supply.

In spite of the criticism, the majority of MEPs would like to finalise the Concession Directive negotiations quickly. In a vote, the competent Internal Market Committee awarded the mandate for entering into a trilogue with Council and Commission with 25 to 10 votes. This procedure shall avoid a second reading and thereby a prolonged discussion on service concessions. What is remarkable is the fact that in particular all German and Austrian political groups are clearly opposed to the draft Directive. Unfortunately, representatives of many other countries, in some cases also across all political groups, are supporting the Directive and the trilogue.

One can only hope that Barnier keeps his promise and unties the tight corset. However, this possible partial improvement will not alter the fact that this Directive does not have any added value at all and only brings additional complexity and legal uncertainty.
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Foto: pjanze/ Quelle: PHOTOCASE
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