In 1983, a right-wing mayor was elected in Grenoble. His administration was marked by corruption and the power he gave to large corporations in the management of public services. Elected officials and environmental activists mobilised in the 1980s and 1990s to prove that corruption was involved in many deals, and set up an alternative, municipal entity to take back and run the water utility.
The decision to remunicipalise the water system due to corruption, lack of transparency and abusive tariffs was taken in March 2000 and implemented in 2001, with the immediate cancellation of the contract with private company Suez.
Under municipal water company Régie des Eaux de Grenoble (REG) investment in infrastructure increased threefold, while maintaining the price of water at lower and steadier levels. The new public enterprise adopted an advanced form of public participation in decision-making by establishing a water users’ committee. One third of the members of the REG’s board of directors are now civil society representatives and the other two thirds are municipal councillors.
A few years after Grenoble’s experience, the City of Paris decided to remunicipalise its water service. Between 2000 and 2008, this allowed users to save €20 million, mainly through improved maintenance resulting in more efficient water use. The city then launched a social water tariff policy: households for whom the cost of the service exceeds 2.5% of their annual income are reimbursed part of the amount by the CAF. In parallel to the social strategy, the goal is to maintain a pure and untreated water supply – the only case in France.
“This is an exemplary initiative – one of the most important and long-term experiences against privatization, having won the battle against one of the biggest private companies (Suez).”
– Evaluator Erick Palomares
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