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Follow up on referendum to stop the privatization of Thessaloniki’s water

Follow up on referendum to stop the privatization of Thessaloniki’s water

Christine Mignonne (circled) with fellow stewards during the WCC Central Committee meeting 2014

31 July 2014

Reeling under the pressure of economic meltdown, the Greek government was planning to privatize the department of water and sanitation in Thessaloniki proposing to sell the public utility to the French corporation Suez Environment.   

The general public and a broad coalition of groups, including the trade unions and the local Greek Orthodox Church, opposed  this measure and forced the   Greek government to hold a local referendum on the proposal to privatize Thessaloniki’s water supply department. The referendum took place on Sunday, 18 May.

The Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) interviewed Christine Mignonne, a young theologian from Thessaloniki, who had participated in the referendum process. She worked as a Steward in the recently concluded Central Committee meeting of the World Council of Churches. She said, “more than 210'000 people voted, and an overwhelming 98 percent voted against the privatization of water in Thessaloniki. However, the final decision of whether or not to privatize is yet to be taken”. Given below is an excerpt of the interview.

EWN: What was the issue of water privatization in Thessaloniki?
Christine Mignonne (CM): The issue of nationwide water privatization in Greece – part of which involved how the issue played out in the city of Thessaloniki – had been set on the table as a part of the framework of the Greek national programme for privatization of state organizations and infrastructure. This issue raised a variety of reactions, both from the secular and the religious parts of Greek society. The main concerns regarding the corporate privatization of water resources and distribution are those of quality, affordability and access for all citizens, along with ecological concerns, since it’s well known that private corporations rarely follow eco-sensitive policies.

EWN: Was your church associated with the protest?
CM: The local church authorities opposed the corporate privatization of the national water resources, and the church has made efforts to inform the public on that and related issues.

EWN: Did you vote on the referendum to stop privatization of water in Thessaloniki?
CM: Yes.

EWN: What was the experience of nationwide voting on the referendum?
CM: It was actually presented as a “local referendum”, but there have been similar initiatives on a national level. I was really impressed with the way the local authorities dealt with this issue. They were really organized and put a lot of publicity in that effort in order to get people to vote. But I think that the fact that made the difference was that they scheduled the referendum on the same day as the municipal elections. They had tables outside the election centres, and voters could visit and vote on “water” before or after voting in the elections for political office.

EWN: What is the outcome of the referendum?
CM: The participation was massive: more than 210'000 people voted, and an overwhelming 98 percent voted against the privatization of water in Thessaloniki. However there it is still a long way to the total refusal of this issue since it’s not yet decided.

EWN: What is your personal take on water privatization?
CM: Personally, I believe strongly that access to affordable and quality water and sanitation is a basic human rights. Greece is one of the countries that are in dire economic straits, most of the national organizations and infrastructures have been totally or partly privatized, raising the cost of living for most Greek families to unbearable levels. Privatizing the water could have effects both on the cost and possibly on the quality of the services provided to the people (especially in the remote rural areas of the country). We believe that we can do something to avoid the degradation of our basic rights; therefore, we are struggling with all the means available to make our voices heard.

EWN's  previous news release on the Thessaloniki referendum