Environment / Politics / Society

Trials and Numbers – The Price of Water Privatisation Continued

In a previous article I mentioned the documentary Water Makes Money. Having watched the documentary about the consequences of water privatisation more than two years ago on television I recently ordered the DVD to use it with students at university. When ordering the filmmakers informed me that a lawsuit had been filed against the French distributor and one of the protagonists of the documentary by the French water company Veolia. Their claim was not to forbid the film but the use of the word “corruption”  expressed by one protagonist, Jean-Luc Touly, a former Veolia employee. The court hearing began in mid-February in Paris. The first day ended with a surprising plea by the prosecution: She saw no legitimate reason for Veolia’s complaint. Subsequently the verdict from 28th March rejected Veolia’s complaint in almost every point. What has been named “corruption” in the documentary can still be called “corruption”. On the other hand, the court followed the plaintiff’s argument in so far as the statement by Jean-Luc Touly, that he was offered one million Euro by Veolia, was found not provable before court. This statement has to be cut from the French version of the documentary. In addition, Touly was sentenced to pay a compensation of one Euro and he has to cut two passages from his book Multinationals and Water, The Unspeakable Truth because he stated in the documentary that he had won all cases brought up against him. In reality he had won all but one. Again this statement has to be cut from the documentary’s French version and Touly and the French distributor were fined 1000 Euro and 500 Euro respectively.

The filmmakers were outraged about the fines for their French colleagues and the censorship of their documentary though one must admit that both are relatively minor impacts. The public disgrace for Veolia is certainly higher since court cases like this one shift attention to a topic they usually do not want to be reminded about. Also, other language versions of the documentary can still be screened and broadcasted uncensored. The filmmaker’s website (www.watermakesmoney.org) has recently been attacked and is completely destroyed. In a short statement they ask: “Cui bono – to whose benefit?”

Meanwhile, the EU Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) Right2Water  has almost reached its goal. By now they have collected almost 1.4 million signatures and fives countries, among them Germany, have already passed the minimum threshold required by the regulations. Other countries are on the verge of passing that minimum threshold of signatories. ECI regulations require a minimum of seven EU countries to pass the threshold which by the way is different in every member state.

In addition, EU commissioner Michael Barnier, responsible for the proposed directive which could lead to more water privatisation, reacted after public and political pressure were increasing across Europe. If a municipal water supplier makes more than eighty percent of its business within its municipality a Europe-wide tender shall no longer be necessary. A small but decisive detail and exclusion for water since the original proposition was that all utilities which make more than twenty percent of their business outside their municipality were supposed to tender Europe-wide. In Germany, where utilities such as water and energy are often in the hands of the same municipal supplier, this would have affected almost all of them because since the liberalisation of the energy market it is possible to buy energy from a municipal supplier even if I do not live there.

In March, the German parliament has rejected a bill to stop EU plans to privatise drinking water supply. This was surprising since politicians across the political parties were far from reluctant to emphasise how important a human right to water is during the last weeks. However, what may be a reason is that the bill came from the opposition and second Germany is having a general election later this year. Unity across parties therefore forbids itself.

Kevin Grecksch

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