The Evaluation of Public-Private Collaboration in Water Management in the Paris’ Suburb (1923-2017): from Discretion to Publicizing

In 1923, the Water Syndicate of the Paris suburb was created to ensure the management of water on behalf of 132 municipalities. It has delegated operational management to the “Compagnie Générale des Eaux” (CGE), called Veolia today. Thus, the collaboration between the Syndicate and Veolia has reflected the need to mix political and technical abilities. Over the first 70 years of the contract, the legitimacy to delegate water service to a private company was not really challenged publicly. Even if negotiations and conflicts could be hard politically, citizens were not involved directly. Water management service was perceived as a discrete and technical issue. In the mid-nineties, after diverse scandals, which involved politicians, multiple stakeholders and the media began to question the partnership between public and private organizations publicly. To regain legitimacy, from 1995, Veolia encouraged the Syndicate to agree with the necessity to obtain certifications, especially related to customer services. As of 1997, it ensured that performance indicators to manage water services began to multiply – strongly. The paper argues that the dyadic collaboration between the Syndicate and Veolia have made emerged a third player, formerly silent, the client. In the absence of a national regulatory agency to oversee water industry in France, it has been invoked as a figure to regulate the coopetitive relationship between the two historical partners. This paper mainly relies on archives from Veolia, from the Water Syndicate (SEDIF), from external institutions (banks, stock exchange, the Academy of Medicine, municipalities). To ensure robust triangulation, the author has conducted 100 interviews inside and outside Veolia and, from 2012 to 2017, he spent, one day a week in Veolia as an observer. The combination of primary and secondary sources added to previous historical works by historians allowed us to triangulate collected information.