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Referendum on water privatisation in Italy

(17 January 2011) The campaign to hold a referendum against a recent law privatising water services in Italy has drawn to a close with over 1.4 million signatures deposited at the supreme court of cassation in Rome. The Italian Supreme Court has validated two referendas on the 4 that were submitted this week.

This means that the whole country will be voting on the issue of public water systems privatisation soon! More precisely, the two validated referendas ask for the cancellation of two legislative pieces, one is an article in a 2008 law on the privatisation of public services with an economic value, and the other calls for the cancellation of an article in the Environment code that forces water tariffs to be calculated according to capital costs (full cost recovery). A huge success for democracy and civic participation in Italy.

The campaign was organised by the Forum Italiano dei Movimenti per l’Acqua, a network of national associations and local committees that are opposed to a 2009 law requiring greater participation by private investors in the management of water services, which is still largely the prerogative of local authorities.

The law that now will be under referendum wanted water supply to be managed exclusively by private companies or by mixed public-private enterprises where the private investor holds at least 40 per cent. In addition local authorities with a stake in utilities listed on the stock exchange are asked to reduce their shareholding gradually to a maximum of 30 per cent by the end of 2015. Proponents say the law is needed to improve efficiency in the system, which currently loses on average 30 per cent of its water through leaky pipes and theft. However critics argue that water is a common good and a universal right and that as such it cannot be subject to the laws of the free market.

The voting should take place this spring. 50 million people in Italy will be voting for or against water privatisation. We wish the Movimento per l’Acqua and the Italian trade unions that support the referendum good luck to stop this proposed law!

- Read more in ’La Repubbica’