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Public or private? – Water services in European countries

Kategorien: |
Thema:
Autor: Jonas Völker

Public or private? – Water services in European countries

Water services are defined in Article 2 (38) of the WFD as: "all services which provide for households, public institutions or any economic activity: (a) abstraction, impoundment, storage, treatment and distribution of surface water or groundwater, (b) wastewater collection and treatment facilities which subsequently discharge into surface water."
Besides the WFD definition, rainwater management is also part of the service provider’s responsibility in the majority of states, but some countries do not include storm water activities. In other countries, flood protection and reclaimed water provision is also carried out by water service providers.
As a way of simplification, four management models may be distinguished across Europe:

  • Direct public management: under this system, the responsible public entity is entirely in charge of service provision and their management. In the past, this system was predominant in Europe.
  • Delegated public management: under this system, a management entity is appointed by the responsible public entity to execute the management tasks. Management entities usually remain the ownership of the public sector, although in the EU, in some cases, there is the possibility of a minor private shareholding.
  • Delegated private management: under this system the responsible public entity appoints a private company to manage tasks, on the basis of a time-bound contract in the form of lease or concession contract. In the countries where this type of management is common, municipalities subcontract their duties to private companies. The ownership of the infrastructure remains in the hands of public authorities.
  • Direct private management: under this system all management tasks, responsibilities and ownership of water utilities are placed in the hands of private operators, while public entities limit their activities to control and regulation. This system is in place in very few European countries (England, Wales, and the Czech Republic).

Apart from the general cases of England and Wales and specific cases in the Czech Republic, water infrastructure across Europe is publicly owned. Public authorities are also in charge of approving the tariffs, determining the quality of service as well as setting and enforcing the environmental and health standards.
The full report is available from the EurEau newsletter – edition 50 – September 2020

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