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The struggle for public water in Marseille, France

Susan Jane Spronk
School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON Canada; susan.spronk@uottawa.ca

Emilie Sing
School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON Canada; esing075@uottawa.ca

ABSTRACT: Marseille is presented here as an unsuccessful case study of remunicipalisation. While there have been a number of cases in France where water and sanitation services have been successfully returned to public control, remunicipalisation remains the exception rather than the rule. In 2013, a small group of local activists in Marseille attempted without success to cancel a concession contract with Société des Eaux de Marseille (SEM), a subsidiary of Veolia and one of the largest and most powerful water companies in the world. We argue that the contract in Marseille may be one of the hardest to break in France since water and sanitation have been delivered by Veolia since the late 19th century. Given the legal barriers and the deep influence of Veolia over Marseille’s political economy, remunicipalisation is unlikely in the absence of a major scandal related to corruption or the quality and pricing of water and sanitation services.

KEYWORDS: Urban water supply, remunicipalisation, social movements, public–private partnerships, Marseille, France