How the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Water and Sanitation is a Human Right!’ Changed EU Discourse on Water Services Provision



In 2010 the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation in what is seen as a historical vote by water activists. Implementation of the right to water is imperative to achieve sustainable development. In 2011 the regulation for a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) entered into force in the European Union. With such an initiative it is possible to propose an issue for European legislation by collecting one million signatures from citizens in at least seven Member States. The European federation of trade unions in the public services sector (EPSU) decided to take up the challenge to organise such an ECI and formed a diverse coalition of organisations and water activists that became known as ‘Right2Water.’ Their proposal was ‘to implement the human right to water and sanitation in European law.’ Although it was successful in achieving the required number of supporters, the European Commission answered that implementation of the human right to water was to be left to Member States and that there was no need to change existing legislation. The Right2Water movement aimed not as much to change legislation but more to challenge EU neoliberal policies and shift them from a ‘market approach’ to a ‘rights-based approach.’ This chapter looks at the factors that contributed to the success of ‘Right2Water,’ how the ideological debate around the human right to water took place during the campaign and the impact it had on EU discourse as well as on EU water policy.


European Citizens’ InitiativeprivatizationEuropean CommissionDrinking Water Directive“Right2Water”Concession Directivesocial movements
  • Year: 2020
  • Volume: 16 Issue: 2
  • Page/Article: 48–59
  • DOI: 10.36633/ulr.568
  • Published on 30 Oct 2020
  • Peer Reviewed