The referendum on the water of Thessaloniki

Brief History

The referendum for the privatization or not of EYATh (Thessaloniki water and sewerage company) held in Thessaloniki on 18 May 2014, is a golden page in the history of the city.

The idea was initiated by the EYATh Workers Association in 2011, visited the municipalities of the city, discussed the proposal and asked to take decisions against the privatization of EYATh and in favor of a referendum.

In March 2013 the EYATh Association of Workers invited municipalities, organizations and citizens of Thessaloniki, for the establishment of a great alliance against the privatization of EYATh. Municipalities of the Thessaloniki area, Initiative 136 (K 136), the Citizens' Union for Water (second-level union of water cooperatives) and the 12 non-profit water cooperatives were co-founding members of the coordinating body.

The coordinating organizations and citizens during the 2013 restored the proposal of the Workers Association since 2011, for a referendum on the water. The decision was finally at a meeting on February 17, 2014.

The organizational framework of the Referendum

On 14 March 2014, the Regional Association of Municipalities of Central Macedonia (RAM-CM) decided unanimously to hold a referendum of movement character and co-organized by the RAM-CM, the 11 municipalities served by EYATh, K 136 and the EYATh Workers Association. To this end 3-member steering committees have been established in each municipality and municipal community of Thessaloniki (totally 16 geographic areas), involving one representative from each municipality, one of the K 136 and of the EYATh Workers Association.

RAM-CM and 11 Municipalities served by EYATh (Ambelokipoi - Menemeni, Delta, Thermaikos, Thermi, Thessaloniki, Kalamaria, Kordelio-Evosmos, Neapoli – Sykies, Pavlou Mela, Pilea - Chortiatis, Oreokastro), undertook to support the conduct referendum, providing the operating spaces for the 3-member committees, infrastructure and campaign.

The 3-member committees undertook the conduct of the campaign in their area and to mobilize volunteers at the local level to inform citizens and staffing of election commissions for the Referendum polls.

The results of the Referendum

218,002 citizens went to the referendum polls in 181 polling centers and with a percentage of 98% answered NO to the referendum question: "Do you agree with the privatization of the Water Supply and Sewerage Company of Thessaloniki? YES or NO? ".

428,000 people voted in the polls of the municipal and regional elections during the same day. The percentage of citizens who participated in the referendum in relation to that of citizens who participated in the local elections exceeded 50% (50.93%).

The Bar Association of Thessaloniki allocated sufficient number of volunteers and members for the supervision of the referendum in order that it meets all the requirements of reliability that was required.

About 30 European observers were scattered in the city and watched the process as preparing, conducting and counting. Their remarks were valuable and implemented.

The importance of the Referendum

For the Local Government was a golden page because:

  1. Decided unanimously and strongly supported the whole project, providing not only the necessary resources, but also the necessary institutional coverage for the proper conduct of the Referendum,
  2. Notice of Referendum as “of movement character”, providing citizens of Thessaloniki the framework to freely express their willingness to privatize or not EYATh. Thereby opened a new page in the relationship of local government with the citizens, which is not based on representation, but in direct-democratic expression of the will of the citizens.

For the Movement of Water was also a golden page because:

  1. Brought out a mission that seemed unattainable in the time available.
  2. Ensure open, “from below”, unmediated participation of all movements and citizens who wanted to participate in the campaign and the referendum. Hundreds of volunteers participated (perhaps the greatest historical contribution to Greece at a similar event), to the call of which contributed the RAM-CM and 11 Municipalities, Initiative 136, the EYATh Workers Association, the SOSte water, Water Warriors, the Citizens Open Assembly for Water, the network of voluntary organizations etc.
  3. Secured the freedom of expression to all citizens of Thessaloniki to the Referendum polls. It was an unusual and great victory of Thessaloniki and Direct Democracy in our country strong legacy for the next day.

After the Referendum

The Assembly of Initiative 136 continues and is represented in the 5-member central committee organizing the referendum to ensure the cancellation of privatization. In this framework was discussed and decided the strategy of transforming the "Alliance of NO" in an "Alliance of YES". For this purpose, we have first to secure the non-privatization of EYATh exhausting all possibilities for convergence of three key aspects of water management:

  1. governmental management
  2. municipal management and
  3. non-profit cooperative management by the citizens,

in a proposal that reflects the vast majority of the city of Thessaloniki, in relation to the EYATh management model.

In this dialogue, the Initiative 136 raises the Statute of water cooperatives, which provides first-level non-profit water cooperatives in every municipality and city community, and also, a second-level association of these cooperatives, which will manage in a non-profit model the water and sewerage services of Thessaloniki. The statute of water cooperatives provides for participation of legal entities, such as municipalities, the EYATh Workers Association and other entities. If the government refused to legislate to enable local government to gain control of EYATh, the model of non-profit cooperative proposal provides immediate and workable solution to the problem, through the cooperation of municipalities with citizens.

For the character and future of the water movement, K 136 considers that it should be:

  • Direct democratic, "from below" without-hierarchical power structures, decentralized and the decisions should be taken by the General Assemblies and expressed by their representatives.
  • Independent of political parties and other organizations.
  • Ecological, with awareness of the relationship of the water and sanitation as a common good with the protection of the environment and to avoid the risk of climate change.
  • In view of the Social Solidarity Economy. No one should derive a profit from the common good of water, but exclusively to ensure provision to all citizens in terms of social justice.

Kostas Nikolaou - Member of K136
* The text is a short edition of the relative decision of the general assembly of K136