The Irish Government is being pressurised by Europe to make our citizens pay for water.
The EU Environment Commissioner Carmen Vella has issued a warning to Housing Minister, Simon Coveney, not to breach the EU’s water framework directive.
In response Mr Coveney has asked for more time to find a funding model for water which will work here.
In December 2012 Ireland was fined €12,000 every day for failing to comply with an EU waste water directive.
Water charges were scrapped in April as part of negotiations to form the current government, having caused major controversy during Fine Gael’s last spell in charge of the country.
Back in June commissioner Vella said the flexibility offered to Ireland ended in 2010 when the then Fianna Fáil-led government pledged to introduce water charges.
The appointment of Maltese politician Vella as Environment Commissioner almost two years ago drew fierce criticism from nature conservation and environmental groups due to legislation he introduced permitting the Mediterranean island’s controversial bird-hunting and tuna-fishing traditions.
Malta remains the only country in the EU to allow birds including quails and doves to be shot in spring after the government in Valetta signed a pre-election memorandum of understanding in 2014 with hunting associations representing nearly 12,000 hunters, promising to defend their “right” to practice their “traditional socio-cultural hobby” of killing endangered birds.
Writing in The Times of Malta newspaper at the time of Vella’s appointment in September 2014, journalist Caroline Muscat described his appointment as a “big surprise”.
She suggested that Mr Vella’s links with “big interest groups” for fisheries and bird hunting meant that his appointment represented a “black day for the environment”.
Ms Muscat said:
“He has no experience that we know of in the sector at all, so it is a surprise from that point of view. It is therefore hard to say what he will bring to the role.
“There are two major environmental issues currently in Malta – fisheries and the hunting of birds. When it comes to hunting, Malta has defied the Directives for a number of years. There are also a lot of big interest groups in fisheries. His [Mr Vella’s] approach is similar to the current Malta government – it is not really about environmental protection.”
“It comes as a surprise to us. I would like to see someone with experience in the sector and some activism in terms of ecological issues.”
It would appear old habits die hard as since his appointment with the EU he has maintained his interest in dealing with “big interest groups” – this time in the water sector.
Last November Vella made a speech at the EP Water Group dinner. The group is no longer officially recognised but seems to now be an informal MEP-industry forum which brings together MEPs, other decision-makers, industry and other ‘stakeholders’ to discuss matters relating to EU water policy. Such forums have been criticised for the cosy relations they can foster between MEPs and big business.
However, more than in many other sectors, big business’ involvement in water management is contentious because of the terrible track record of private companies in managing municipal water services and water resources.
The 2013 European citizen’s initiative on the right to water attracted the support of nearly two million EU citizens to “recognise water as a public good, not a commodity; to promote the provision of water and sanitation as essential public services for all; to ensure that water supply and management of water resources not be subject to ‘internal market rules’; and that water services are excluded from liberalisation.”
By bringing together MEPs and multinational water companies to discuss water issues, the EP Water Group is surely treading on dangerous ground.
Which MEPs and which companies get to be part of the EP Water Group is not publicly disclosed, with the exception of Esther de Lange MEP (EPP, Netherlands) who is the current chairperson.
The EP Water Group website provides no information on its membership, nor does it provide information on who contributes money towards it.
In his speech at the November event Vella said:
“The Water Group’s political expertise has always ensured a strategic approach. Whether on the link between water and biodiversity, the monitoring of the Water Framework Directive, or on the role of the private sector, your group has always been to the fore.”
He went on talk up the role of the private sector in the water industry and well he might as also taking part that night was Bruno Tisserand, the president of EurEau, one of Brussels’ trade associations representing Europe’s (public and private) water services providers.
Tisserand has worked at Veolia (major French water company) since 1985, most recently as research programme director. Since 1990, Tisserand has also been part of FP2E (Fédération Professionnelle des Entreprises de l’Eau), the French private water companies’ lobby.
The legality of The EP Water Group is most definitely questionable as Rule 34 of the EU Parliament’s rules of procedures says:
“Individual Members may form Intergroups or other unofficial groupings of Members … Such groupings may not engage in any activities which might result in confusion with the official activities of Parliament or of its bodies …”.