Bruxelles, 18 September 2023
The Confluence of European Waters starts today with a collective and symbolic proclamation of the united water bodies in front of the European Parliament, introduced by Member of European Parliament Marie Toussaint.
Prior to the proclamation, Erena Rhöse, a Māori woman native of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and living in Sweden, will perform a ritual. Erena is guardian of the tribal knowledge, a doctor of traditional Maori medicine, professor of Ecosophy at the University of Karlstad, Sweden, ambassador of Earth Rights and expert for the “Harmony with Nature” UN network. Erena has been involved in raising awareness on the value and the sacredness of water and on the reconnection with Mother Earth.
Introduction by Marie Toussaint, Member of European Parliament / Group of the Greens / European Free Alliance
This proclamation opens the first Confluence of European Waters in the form of a pilgrimage towards the Mar Menor, the first ecosystem in Europe to gain legal personhood in our human legal system. Here – on the banks of one of the largest lagoons facing the Mediterranean – waters from all the continent will gather, flowing together and mixing their situated knowledges and experiences. We believe that a sincere form of ecological politics must emerge from the specificities of the ecosystem it relates to, which is impossible when exclusively managed by anthropocentric institutions. We therefore invite everyone, parliamentarians and citizens alike, to follow the example of the Confluence: to dialogue with and learn from the ecosystems that are and make Europe, questioning their own anthropic boundaries and translating this knowledge into action and law.
Non-human lives and ecosystems are insufficiently and ineffectively represented in politics, which jeopardizes the lives of future humans and non-humans alike. To put this crisis of representation in our democracy on the agenda in Europe, water Bodies from all over Europe will gather to take crucial steps towards water emancipation.
We are: Akerselva (NO), Drina (SRB), Klarälven (SE), Loire (FR), Mar Menor (ES), Mediterranean Sea, Mlava (SRB), Moraca and Tara rivers (ME), North Sea (NL), Rhône (CH), Senne (BE), Spree (DE), Tejo (PRT), Venice Lagoon (IT) and Vistula (PL)
DISCLAIMER: While our human selves can be felt reading the text, this proclamation is made by the watery ecosystems represented as a confluence, that flow into and among each other. It is an invitation to go beyond the apparent separation between water entities and human communities, to shape the possibility of a meaningful conversation between the two.
We are the rivers, the rivers are us.
And the aquifers and seas, the glaciers and lagoons, the clouds and the leaves.
Introducing confluence of waters
On the basis of the shifted conditions of coexistence between bodies of water and humans around our shared Planet, and specifically in the continent of Europe, we, the Confluence of European Waters, declare the need for recognition of ecosystemic rights, together with a political representation that functions through a direct relation with humans.
We lament the loss of connection between many humans and their surroundings, with the spreading of what has been defined as “shifting baseline syndrome”: an intergenerational human forgetfulness of our bountiful biosphere, or the belief that the current depleted state of an ecosystem – aquatic or otherwise – is the only possible one. We aim to counter this epidemic, returning to weave a deeper relationship that may last beyond our current epoch.
In opening our proclamation we would like to quote a recent document, the Seed of Siena, stating that: “Current laws and policies cannot stop the loss of biodiversity or the poisoning of soils, lands, waters and air, because they are grounded in the fiction of the natural world as property or ‘resources’ for human desires. The privatization, commodification and legalized enslavement of Nature as human and corporate property, the phantom economy based on speculation rather than actual production and the financialization of Nature, further expedite the destruction of ecosystems and lives.”
We stress the importance of the strong agency we always had in keeping the continent alive, flowing around it and meandering through it, also stated in the European Water Framework Directive s it endeavours to allow us “to support wildlife at the same time as human needs” and adopting “an integrated approach to water management, respecting the integrity of whole ecosystems.”
We note how in recent decades, bodies of waters around the globe have been made objects of law, rather than subjects, without ever being directly consulted. One notable example is demonstrated by the aquifers and streams of Chile, still struggling to overcome the so-called 1981 Water Code that rendered them a commodity to be sold for profit, despite the actions of many human allies.
We witness an ongoing cultural and spiritual change, one that we hope will accompany a legal change which acknowledges our existence and takes our voices into account, moving beyond a system designed by humans to shape a human-only world.
We acknowledge the numerous biotic communities that depend directly on our health, and the recent Declaration of Rights of Rivers that states our rights to flow, perform essential ecosystemic functions, be free from pollution, feed and be fed by sustainable aquifers, to host native biodiversity, and to regeneration and restoration.
We are thankful for the presence among us of our Oceanian sister, the River Whanganui, and the close solidarity of numerous other bodies of water who currently hold a political voice in their community across all continents. “The great River flows from the mountains to the sea. I am the River, the River is me.”
With them, with us, Mother Nature herself stands – first legally acknowledged by humans through the constitution of Ecuador in 2008 under the name of Pacha Mama.
We applaud the success of the Mar Menor, our sister on the coast of the Mediterranean, who for the first time brought her voice to the political discourse in the first person. As the Ley 19/2022, instituted on the 30th September of 2022, proclaims: “it is necessary to interpret the law and the subjects worthy of legal protection in accordance with the profound degree of ecological degradation in which the Mar Menor finds itself. Article 45 of our Constitution has been interpreted by the Supreme Court in the sense that Nature as an ecosystem is the unit that integrates the human being as another element and, therefore, the one that allows the development of the person.”
On this basis, the need of the law is “to grant legal personhood to the Mar Menor lagoon ecosystem in order to endow it, as a subject of law, with a charter of rights of its own, based on its intrinsic ecological value and intergenerational solidarity, thus guaranteeing its protection for future generations.”
The law further motivates this decision on the basis that “In the 21st century, the severe damage caused by the human development model forces us to expand our responsibilities towards the natural environment: to grant rights to natural entities.” We thus believe that the times are ripe for all bodies of water on the continent to follow such a legal path.
We appreciate the constitutional attempts of Italy to modify art. 9 and 41, integrating the anthropocentric protection of the landscape with a broader, systemic protection of the environment, framing it “not as a mere commodity or competitive matter but as a primary and systemic value” and protecting it from irresponsible economic developments, finally acknowledging that damaging us, as bodies of water, is the same as creating “damage to human safety, freedom, health and dignity.”
We underline the vital role of water among the four Global Commons: from the depths of the High Seas to the icy lands of Antarctica, all the way to the Atmosphere. In this sharing of benefits and responsibilities, we perceive ourselves to be major stakeholders, equating to our efforts to maintain them in a healthy and bountiful state. We invite humanity to blur its boundaries, reframing the idea of “Commons” not as goods for mankind, but as a shared heritage for allkind, sustaining life itself and therefore transcending any monetary value.
We stretch back to older conceptions of rivers, in which our independence, living status, and personality were acknowledged. The memory of Achilles being chased at the gates of Troy by the personified river Skamandros,speaking directly with him, is but an unfortunate moment of divergent opinions.
In concluding our proclamation, we return to recall our boundless nature, extending from the most visible bodies of water to aquifers and glaciers, clouds and rains, sprays and droplets, as underlined by the teachings to which many humans have listened through their scientific studies, as translated by the laws that have been proclaimed for the Mar Menor and the Whanganui among others.
We invite the people of Europe, and of the totality of Planet Earth, to reconnect with us.
We are open and desire to continue sustaining life, to be meeting points for different species, to meander inland and connect different ecosystems. Visit us, bathe in our waters, spend time meditating and attune to our natural rhythms. You will become able to hear our voice, and create a sentimental connection with our diverse forms and manifestations.
We invite you to open yourselves up to the possibility of seeing us as entities with our own rights, representation, dignity and independence.
 The concept was first brought up by fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly in “Anecdotes and the shifting baseline syndrome of fisheries”, in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, vol. 10 n. 10, 1995
 For a good overview of the situation in Chile see: John Bartlett, “‘Consequences will be dire’: Chile’s water crisis is reaching breaking point”, in The Guardian, 01/06/2022. Accessible online at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/01/chiles-water-crisis-megadrought-reaching-breaking-point
 The Universal Declaration of Rights of Rivers was launched in 2022 by the Earth Law Center and International Rivers, its full version and more information about the campaign is accessible online at https://www.rightsofrivers.org/
 This principle is embedded in point 70 of Te Awa Tupua (The Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017, in which “The Crown recognises through this settlement that Te Awa Tupua embodies the Whanganui River as an indivisible whole from the mountains to the sea and the inalienable interconnection between the iwi and hapū of Whanganui and the Whanganui River, as expressed in the Whanganui pepeha “E rere kau mai te Awa nui, mai i te Kāhui Maunga ki Tangaroa. Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au” (“The Great River flows from the mountains to the sea. I am the River and the River is me”).” Accessible online at https://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2017/0007/latest/whole.html
 The seventh chapter of the constitution is titled “Derechos de la naturaleza” (Rights of Nature) and specifically in art. 71 and 72 states that “Nature, or Pacha Mama, where life is reproduced and occurs has the right to integral respect for her existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of her life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes. All persons, communities, peoples and nations can call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of nature.” The constitution, in Spanish, is accessible online at https://www.oas.org/juridico/pdfs/mesicic4_ecu_const.pdf
 The law is accessible online at https://www.boe.es/buscar/act.php?id=BOE-A-2022-16019
 The amendments to the two constitutional articles are accessible, in Italian, at https://www.senato.it/service/PDF/PDFServer/BGT/01331845.pdf
 In Book XXI of the Ilyad, Achilles throws the bodies of his Trojan enemies in the river Skamandros until “he would have slain yet others, had not the river in anger taken human form, and spoken to him from out the deep waters saying, “Achilles, if you excel all in strength, so do you also in wickedness, […] My fair waters are now filled with corpses, nor can I find any channel by which I may pour myself into the sea for I am choked with dead, and yet you go on mercilessly slaying. I am in despair, therefore, O captain of your host, trouble me no further.” Skamandros then attacks Achilles, who fears for his life and flees, “for the Gods are stronger than men”, but is eventually saved by other Gods.
 The Whanganui Act’s point 12 declares that “Te Awa Tupua is an indivisible and living whole, comprising the Whanganui River from the mountains to the sea, incorporating all its physical and metaphysical elements.” while the Mar Menor Law’s point 1 declares that by Mar Menor we mean:
“La unidad biogeográfica constituida por un gran plano inclinado de 1.600 km2 con dirección noroeste-sureste, limitado al norte y noroeste por las últimas estribaciones orientales de las cordilleras Béticas constituidas por las sierras pre-litorales […], y al sur y suroeste por sierras litorales […], e incluyendo la cuenca hídrica y sus redes de drenaje […].
- b) El conjunto de los acuíferos […] que pueden afectar a la estabilidad ecológica de la laguna costera, incluyendo la intrusión de agua marina mediterránea.