In the last decade, water issues have become increasingly relevant in Italy. Strong social awareness and widespread dissemination activities on the ground have led to the exchange of experiences and ideas, turning the struggle over water management into the promotion of an entirely new model of society.
The Italian Forum of Water Movement was thus convened for the first time in Rome from 10th to 12th March 2006. More than 600 representatives of associations and trade unions participated, sharing analyses, knowledge and practices. As of today, over 80 national organisation and networks, 1000 local groups and hundreds of local authorities are part of the Italian Forum of Water Movements.
In 2009, the then Berlusconi government (centre-right) proposed a decree, so-called Ronchi decree, aiming at the privatization of all public services, including water.
At the initiative of the Italian Forum of Water Movements, in the first months of 2010 the Promoting Committee was created to oppose the proposal through a repeal referendum. It was a vast social coalition, composed by hundreds of groups steaming from local social movements, active citizenship groups, secular and religious voluntary organizations, trade unions, social forces, the school system, the research and academic community, and the cultural and artistic world. From the very beginning, it was decided that the political forces would be kept out of the Committee, to avoid any kind of constraints and allow people of all political tendencies to join.
The repeal referendum is an instrument of direct democracy guaranteed by the Italian Constitution (Art. 75), which requires a minimum of 500,000 signatures to be collected in three months and submitted to the Supreme Court. Following the validation of the necessary signature quorum, it is up to the Constitutional Court to ascertain the eligibility of the referendum question on the basis of its respect for constitutional principles. Finally, the Government must decide a date for the vote.
In the three months between the 24th of April and the 19th of July, over 1.400.000 signatures were collected in support of the three referendum proposals drafted by the Promoting Committee, that would repeal all legislation on water privatization. This was an extraordinary result, turning this referendum campaign into the one that has managed to collect the highest number of signatures in the Italian history.
The campaign was intense and mobilized thousands of people. The promoters aimed at establishing local committees all around the country creating a direct relationship with citizens. They campaigned on the street and door-to-door, rediscovering a decades-old campaign strategy that was common when big mass parties did not exist yet. It was an ambitious challenge, based on the awareness that referendums can only be won on the territory, reaching all citizens. It was also a way to fill the information gap left by the media, that totally ignored the referendum and its promoters.This gap was turned into an advantage, as there were no mediators between activists and citizens and the message could be delivered without distortions or falsifications. People felt that the struggle was their own, that the Committee was their movement and that their future was at stake. The struggle for public water became a struggle to reaffirm direct democracy through the popular will, which is not only expressed during elections but also through direct participation to the political life.
On 12th and 13th June, about 27 million citizens voted against privatization, repealing the vision that “private is beautiful” for the first time.
Unfortunately, as of today, most institutions, big companies and economic powers have avoided the implementation of the referendum and, even worse, have started a new privatizing offensive.
However, the fight continues.
The combined provisions of the referenda provided us with a legislative framework, which makes it possible to re-nationalize the management of the integrated water system in Italy. It is a clear indication of the direction to take in relation to social guarantees, collective rights and management of the common goods.
However, through various laws approved in the last few years (Unblock Italy Decree, Budget 2015), a mechanism was set up that allows the four Italian big multi-utilities – A2A, Iren, Hera and Acea –, already traded in the stock market, to incorporate, through merging processes, all the companies that manage water, environmental and energy services. It is also worth noting that there are constant attempts at privatizing the Puglia Aqueduct, the biggest in Europe.
In addition to this, through the tariff method set up by the Authority for Electric Energy, Gas and Water System (AEEGSI), guaranteed profits for managing companies are being subtly re-introduced under the denomination “cost of financial resources”. This method only serves to re-introduce the same mechanism of remuneration of the invested capital, thus ignoring the outcome of the second referendum question.
To try to interfere in this situation, the Italian Forum of Water Movements, together with Federconsumatori, filed an appeal to the Tar of Lombardy and then to the Council of State. On 26th May, 2017, the Council of State rejected the appeal. As a result, the movement for water has mobilized since autumn 2011, launching the campaign “Civil Obedience”, which consists in paying bills without the “remuneration of invested capital” profit component, which was repealed by the referendum. It is called “Civil Obedience” since it does not ask people to disobey the law, but to behave according to existing laws, as modified by the outcome of the referendum. The main aim of the campaign is to obtain the implementation of what was unequivocally decided in the referendum: no profit from water. The campaign, with the active mobilization of citizens, is a bottom-up direct-democracy action, self-organized, aware and unwilling to lower its head to the diktat of the strong powers.
Session “Legislative tools and social campaigns. Learning from the case of the Italian Forum for Water Movements “
Paolo Carsetti – Forum Italiano dei Movimenti per l’Acqua
Forum of Water Movements – Download
- Italian Forum of Water Movements website (Italian)
- Website of the European Water Movement network, to which the Italian Form of Water Movement is part
- Water remunicipalisation tracker
- Website of the international campaign “Water is a Human Right” (various languages)
- Video to promote the referendum – domino effect: democracy needs every one of us. Go out and vote! (Italian)
- Video on the referendum results – 26 million and more thanks (Italian)