Beyond the conflict of private vs public ownership: the role of cooperatives in the water sector

Starting date
March 1, 2017
Duration (months)
Managers or local contacts
Guerrini Andrea

In Europe, starting from the UK in 1989, a process of privatization was followed by governments and opened the
water services to the big players operating worldwide and to private equity funds, also through the listing
process on a stock exchange. However, in some cases (Austria, Denmark, Finland, north of Italy and Spain),
water services are directly controlled by customers organized in a cooperative, who manage an utility troughtheir representatives. In these last cases, each citizen could take the membership of this cooperative simply
trough the ownership of an apartment or farms in rural areas. This give the right to take part to the annual
assembly, where all relevant information should be discussed and relevant decisions are taken.
The current project is focused on European water cooperatives in order to achieve multiple research aims.
Firstly it aims to demonstrate the existence of any differences in terms of water price affordability, investments
per capita realization and capability to collect funds between water cooperatives and other water firms with
different ownership structures, with a more typical governance for the sector. The latter group includes: wholly
publicly owned firms, as municipals or State owned company; wholly private firms, owned by private investors;
and mixed firms, as Public-Private Partnership (PPP). The second aim of this project is to analyse the corporate
governance of water cooperatives, mapping the paths followed to take relevant decisions, such as: the
appointment of board members and top managers; the establishment of an internal control body and its
composition; the planning of tariffs, investments and costs and the control over target and actual results. Finally, this research project aims to demonstrate if it is possible to extend the cooperative form on water services also
in other countries or regions of Europe, besides those prior mentioned, and under which conditions.
This would be the first research project which studies water cooperatives following a cross country approach
and aiming to observe both performance and governance issues.

Project participants

Andrea Guerrini
Associate Professor


Research facilities