Corporate Europe Observatory

Exposing the power of corporate lobbying in the EU

Water needs politics, not techno-fixes

  • Dansk
  • Nederlands
  • English
  • Suomi
  • Français
  • Deutsch
  • Ελληνικά
  • Italiano
  • Bokmål
  • Polski
  • Portuguese
  • Română
  • Slovenščina
  • Español
  • Svenska

Sir,

Regarding ‘Veolia calls for shift to ‘low-water economy‘:

It is little wonder that Antoine Frérot wants to change the economics of the water business. Veolia Water, the biggest global water corporation in the world, is now confronted with a serious threat: as Corporate Europe Observatory noted in its report (’Turning on the taps in Brussels - Veolia Environnement’s lobbying activities on water at an EU level’), the volumes of water sold by Veolia have been decreasing in recent years, affecting Veolia’s income.

This is nothing exceptional and follows the trend in urban water use in Europe. Veolia Water’s distributed water volumes decreased by 1.9% in 2008 and 3% in 2007, and urban water use in Europe is also decreasing regularly, as shown by this study on water use by sectors by the European Environment Agency.

Veolia Water’s only fast-growing division, Veolia Water Solutions and Technologies, sells engineering solutions such as desalination plants. As a consequence, Veolia Water is now pushing for technological solutions such as wastewater re-use and seawater desalination to “disconnect” sold water from water abstracted from the environment – enabling water consumption to be maintained at its current level - and Veolia is now asking the EU to support and even legally impose these solutions, calling them “sustainable”.

The stakes are crucial for all water operators: this much-needed decrease in consumption affects the balance sheet of both public and private operators, particularly when stricter standards increase sanitation costs. It is indeed very important to design robust financing models for water utilities, and, as Frérot acknowledges, it is likely that the taxpayer will have to contribute more now that user fees no longer cover the costs – water systems in Europe were developed and maintained by taxpayers anyway, private companies being notorious for under-investment in water infrastructure.

A traditional definition of efficiency is measuring the ratio of the effective or useful output to the total input in any system. Frérot’s calls for energy-intensive solutions to allow water consumption to stay at its present level go in exactly the opposite direction as they would result in spending massive amounts of more and more expensive energy to sustain current – and still excessive - levels of water consumption. His calls to morality, in this context, are not credible.

A more meaningful approach would be a truly integrated vision which views the water cycle in a holistic way, measuring water systems’ efficiency and performance as their capacity to provide drinking or safe water to as many as possible, with as little cost as possible: the costs in water cycles are liabilities for all water users, including ecosystems.

Examples of such progressive management exist in Europe, where local authorities use synergies and positive loops between agriculture, forestry and urban water system policies to both minimise their costs and replenish ecosystems and river basin health (see CEO and TNI’s new discussion paper; ‘Progressive Public Water Management in Europe - In search of exemplary cases’, January 2009) .

Veolia’s proposals simply ignore such possibilities, firstly because they do not help short-term profit optimisation, but also because a private company’s limited remit structurally prevents it from being able to lead such transversal policies.

This highlights the contrasting attitudes between public and private players in the water sector: to some the global water crisis is a business opportunity, to others it is a political challenge.

Kind regards,

Martin Pigeon

 

PS: this letter to the editor was published by Euractiv on the 4th of May 2009.

Related issues: 
 

The Kant Foundation has decided to grant its Weltbürger Prize 2014 (Citizen of the world prize) to the film-makers of the documentary “Water Makes Money”, Leslie Franke and Herdolor Lorenz, as well as to two protagonists featuring in the documentar

The concessions directive, which has the stated object of opening markets and eliminating “discrepancies among national regimes”, would end the exemption that has so far existed for drinking water supply and for the first time bring it under the rules of the EU’s single market.

Be it out of sheer ignorance or because it is serving narrow corporate interests, or both, the European Commission is pushing for water supply privatisation in Europe precisely when the business model that this policy wants to support is dying.
The European Commission is deliberately promoting privatization of water services as one of the conditions being imposed as part of bailouts, it has acknowledged in a letter to civil society groups.[1] EU Commissioner Olli Rehn's directorate was responding to questions posed in an open letter concerning the European Commission’s role in imposing privatisation through the Troika in Greece, Portugal and other countries.[2] The civil society groups have today written to Commissioner Rehn to demand that he “refrains from any further pressure to impose water privatisation conditionalities”
The new LobbyFacts website allows EU lobby register data to be sorted, compared, ranked and analysed and exposes extent of lobbying in Brussels.
Attac Austria and Corporate Europe Observatory are today launching new 'wanted posters' about prospective members of the new European Commission, to expose details of their corporate backgrounds or other aspects of their careers which make them unsuitable to act as commissioner and promote the interests of 500 million European citizens.
As part of her inquiry into the Commission's implementation of UN tobacco lobby rules, European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly has asked Commission President Barroso for “a supplementary opinion” with proper answers to questions raised in her inquiry. O'Reilly took this step after having received a seriously unconvincing letter from Barroso that fails to address the specific questions and arguments put forward by CEO in the complaint that sparked the Ombudsman's inquiry.
As MEPs prepare to quiz Jonathan Hill again, the UK commissioner-designate allocated the portfolio of financial services, and Hill refuses to answer MEPs' question about his former financial lobby clients, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) exposes further information about Hill's career as a lobbyist.

Corporate Europe Forum