Should access to clean water and sanitation be a human right? A historic signature drive is now forcing the European Union to take a stance.
An initiative that aims to enshrine the human right to water and sanitation into EU law gathered more than a million signatures, which — once submitted to Brussels — would force the regional bloc to take up the matter under a law passed last year.
A coalition of groups working across Europe that includes the European Anti-Poverty Network, the European Public Health Alliance and the European Federation of Public Service Unions signed up to the European Citizens’ Initiative last year. The ECI is an “agenda-setting initiative which obliges the Commission to give serious consideration to requests made by citizens.” Proposals can touch on a wide range of topics under the EU’s jurisdiction, such as energy, development and cooperation, food safety and humanitarian aid.
The organizers have so far not submitted their signatures to Brussels — they hope to reach 2 million signatures by September to ensure 1 million valid signatures — but their campaign is shaping up to be the first to inch its way to the European Commission and European Parliament, providing organizers an opportunity to present their proposal.
The commission is “not obliged” to act in accordance with the initiative, but it has to respond. It can, of course, propose legislation that may be adopted by EU lawmakers.
Reaching this stage of the ECI process isn’t easy, though. Organizers must express their appeal in less than 200 characters and outline their objective in less than 500. Regulations on verifying signatures — which will be the next step organizers will have to deal with — also pose a “challenge.” Some countries require ID numbers or ask information some signatories may not be comfortable sharing, according to a Campaign Handbook article published late last year.
The cumbersome process could turn off organizations from using the platform to push their agenda. But it might prove to be a useful tool to engage more people across Europe on a particular issue.
The campaign could not have chosen a better year: The U.N. General Assembly proclaimed 2013 as the International Year for Water Cooperation. How the citizens’ initiative will fare at the EU, however, remains to be seen.
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