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Barlow helps generate momentum for Berlin to become a blue community

Barlow speaks at the Berlin House of Representatives, March 29

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has been in Berlin, Germany promoting our blue communities campaign.

A ‘blue community’ is a municipality that adopts a framework that recognizes water as a human right, opposes the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events, and promotes publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services. A blue community can also be a university, religious grouping, union, First Nation, or another kind of association.

On March 29, Barlow spoke about blue communities at the Berlin House of Representatives. Also present were three elected members of that House of Representatives — Daniel Buchholz (a SPD – Social Democratic Party), Marion Platta (Die Linke – The Left) and Silke Gebel (Die Grünen – The Greens).

The House of Representatives is the state parliament of Berlin, according to the city-state’s constitution. The House passes legislation, chooses the Governing Mayor of Berlin, and keeps check on the Senate of Berlin, the executive body that governs Berlin.

The Social Democrats, The Left, and The Greens together hold 92 seats in the 160-member House.

Barlow tells us, “The three parties came together to host an evening on Berlin becoming a Blue Community. It was packed, about 90 people, including the Berliner Wassertisch (Berlin Water Table) activists who initiated the event, conservation groups, workers and anti-bottled water groups.”

Berliner Wassertisch notes that all three factions of the new Berlin-based red-green-green coalition endorsed the idea of Berlin as a blue community. And Barlow says, “I am sure that with this event a new water movement was launched in Berlin.”

Then on March 30, Barlow gave the keynote address for the 10th anniversary of the Alliance of Public Water Management (AöW).

As noted on their website, “The Allianz der öffentlichen Wasserwirtschaft e.V. is the representation of interests of public water management in Germany. Founded in 2007, our members come from all federal states. The AöW is an alliance of institutions governed by public law and companies of water supply, wastewater disposal as well as river basin management.”

Barlow explains, “These are public sector operators, activists, academics and environmentalists promoting water as a public trust and human right.”

During her trip, Barlow also highlighted the story of the remunicipalization of Berlin’s water services.

In 1994, the Senate of Berlin opened the Berliner Wasserbetriebe (BWB) water utility to commercialization. In 1999, 49.9 per cent of the utility was sold to the transnational corporations RWE Aqua Ltd. and Vivendi Environment (later Veolia). After a sharp increase in the price charged for water in 2004, Berliner Wassertisch was formed in 2006 to demand remunicipalization. In 2007, a popular referendum campaign was launched that concluded in 2011 with 666,235 Berliners voting in favour of the proposition “Berliners want their water back”. In 2012, the Senate bought back RWE’s shares and in in 2013 it bought back Veolia’s shares. Now that the campaign for remunicipalization has been won, the demand is for the democratization of the utility.

While in Berlin, Barlow also warned about the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the United States-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with respect to water privatization.

The European Water Movement has warned, “Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) is one of the most worrying aspects of this latest wave of trade agreements. Under this mechanism, foreign companies can use private tribunals to sue governments if they deem that their profits or investment potentials are being affected by new laws or changes in policy. ISDS gives companies the power to contest — and potentially reverse — government decisions, and to seek compensation, possibly in millions of Euros.”

Following this work in Berlin, Barlow will now travel to Bregenz, Austria for the annual general meeting of the World Future Council. Their mission statement highlights, “We envision a sustainable, just and peaceful future where universal rights are respected. To achieve this, we research, identify and spread the best and most sustainable policy solutions worldwide.” Barlow is a councillor with the organization.