Potable water: human right or business article (controversial amendment to the Slovak water law)

By Katarina Bujnakova


The Ministry of Environment of the Slovak Republic has recently brought a controversial amendment to the Slovak water law which would allow the export and sale of Slovak potable water abroad.  This was approved by the Slovak Government in July 2014 and has been delivered to the Slovak Parliament for the further discussions and final approval.

The amended legislation primarily aims at implementing of the state regulation of the carriage and transfer of water outside the territory of the Slovak Republic, which shall be subject to the prior approval procedure.  It imposes more rigid rules on the national consumption and export of water outside national borders.  In addition, the amendment exclusively entitles the Slovak government to restrict and ban carriage and transfer of water as well as to regulate its use.

The amendment in question has naturally provoked significant reaction within Slovakia with activists claiming that the ministry is clearing the way to "commodify" and export natural resource representing a national heritage and property in the light of the Slovak Constitution as well as the EU Water Framework Directive No. 2000/60/EC.  Two petitions against the amendment have been launched by the Slovak portal Skutočný snem as well as by the Slovak conservative party OĽANO arguing that potable water, like air, represents a fundamental human right and should not be privatised.

The ministry has called such claims “nonsense” and points out that the amendment implements the reasonable state control mechanism over water business.  According to official statements, through the amendment, the country shall adhere to the successful European petition Right2Water securing the citizens' right for sufficient national water resources.

Opponents are not convinced and have claimed that amendment could negatively impact the Slovak environment, potable water supply to its citizens and cause progressive price increases of potable water in Slovakia.  They are lobbying for consent Slovak citizens through a referendum arguing that the government should not possess the exclusive right when deciding on such crucial public matter.

The petitions call on the Slovak Parliament not to approve the amendment and so far more than 63,000 citizens' signatures have been collected.

If the Slovak Parliament approved the amendment, it would become effective in the Slovak Republic as of 1 October 2014.

According to the latest news[1], the Slovak Government has taken steps to assure the public that the only goal of the new water legislation is to avoid the potential for an uncontrolled water business in Slovakia in the future.  The Government has stated that it is seeking to protect the national water resources by operation of the Slovak Constitution (the law of highest force in Slovakia).  In support of this, the precise wording of the bill has been introduced banning the export and/or transfer of: (i) potable; (ii) mineral; and (iii) geothermal water (gathered through conduit or cistern).  Naturally certain exclusions are included, like export and transfer for the purposes of humanitarian aid, or export and transfer of "bottled" water.  This latest bill was submitted to the legislative procedure on 14 July 2014 and is now the subject of the inter-government department consultation.

[1] As at 22 July 2014.



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Katarína Pfeffer

Czech Republic & Slovakia

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