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June 27, 2011

Toasting a Major Victory for the Water Commons

Italian voters overwhelmingly reject water privatization

In a landmark victory for the emerging water commons movement, Italians voted overwhelmingly to overturn laws welcoming water privatization enacted by the government of Silvio Berlusconi. Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of U.S.-based Food and Water Watch and Food and Water Europe explains here why this is a victory for water justice activists around the world.

Ninety-six percent of Italians rejected water privatization, while 95 percent voted against a overturning a ban on nuclear power that had been enacted by voters in a 1990 referendum. Ninety-five percent also supported stripping Berlusconi and other government ministers of special privileges in court cases. The Berlusconi government urged its supporters not to vote, since referendums attracting fewer than 50 percent of voters are invalid. The 57 percent turnout in the June 12-13 vote was a major blow to Berlusconi’s supporters. —Jay Walljasper

The results are in, and Italian citizens overwhelmingly opted to overturn laws promoting water privatization.

Ninety six percent of Italians voted to keep their water services public in a referendum that attracted 57 percent of the electorate. The success of the referendum in Italy is a true display of the power and potential of grassroots activism. The Italian Forum of Water Movements and Italian citizens managed to mobilize an entire nation and raise awareness that water is a basic human right.

One of the laws on water privatization overturned by voters is article 15 of the Ronchi Decree, named after Andrea Ronchi, Minister of Community Policy from 2008-2010. It stipulated that by 2011, private companies that wished to participate in the public water services sector could do so with “equal treatment and no discrimination” and they were encouraged to buy up to 70% of any listed public water company.

The second law that was overturned is article 154 of the “Environmental Code,” which states that the price of water services will be decided on the basis of a guaranteed return on investment. This meant that the private water companies could then charge as much as they wanted to guarantee a higher profit and further their view of water as an economic good instead of a common good.

The success of the referendum was born out of a water movement that refused to put its precious resource into the hands of profit seeking private companies.