Across Europe, a vision of the commons has been emerging in the margins for many years. But now, as the credibility of conventional politics and neoliberal economics plummets, commoners are becoming more visible, assertive and organized. The latest evidence comes from the first meeting of a newly formed European Commons Assembly. More than 150 commoners from 21 countries across Europe gathered in Brussels for the three-day event, from November 15 to 17.
The Assembly was organized by Sophie Bloemen and David Hammerstein of the Berlin-based European Commons Network, in collaboration with other commons advocates and organizations. Two sets of Assembly meetings were held at the Zinneke collective, based in an old stamp factory in Brussels that the nonprofit collective had reclaimed. Another meeting was held in the stately European Parliament building, hosted by supportive members of the European Parliament who sit on the Working Group on Common Goods, within the Intergroup on Common Goods and Public Services.
Bloemen and Hammerstein recently wrote about the meetings:
This movement of commoners has been growing across Europe over the last decade, but last week it came together for the first time in a transnational European constellation. The objectives of the meetings were multiple but the foremost goal was to connect and form a stable but informal transnational commons movement in Europe. The political energy generated by bringing all these people together in this context was tremendous.
Bloemen and Hammstein noted that the Assembly was comprised of “an explosively creative myriad of urban regenerators, knowledge sharers, energy cooperativists, community artists, food producers as well as disruptive social hackers of many different flavours.” As a first-time organizing meeting, participants had many different agendas to advance, but they shared some basic goals – to “establish new synergies, to show solidarity, to reclaim Europe from the bottom-up and, overall, to start a visible commons movement with a European focus.”
Their account of the Assembly continues:
There was admittedly some culture shock: for some of the participants it was quite difficult and even contradictory to think and speak comfortably as commoners in the stiff, formal, hierarchical institutional setting of the European Parliament. Nevertheless, in the parliamentary committee chamber packed with commoners and EU policy makers, with some of the MEPs even sitting the ground, the atmosphere was inviting. Leading commons thinkers and activists Yochai Benkler, Ugo Mattei and Janet Sanz sent their best wishes with brief video contributions. Story-based example of commons initiatives such as community wifi infrastructuresand Barcelona urban commons initiatives were shared. The results of months of participative policy co-creation were presented and discussed: Proposals on community energy, participatory democracy, land governance and the natural commons. The MEPS in turn presented their proposal on the collaborative economy, which led to passionate discussion.
Work on these proposals and others will continue as will an organized exchange of views between supporting MEPs (members of the EP intergroup on commons goods & public services), and commoners wishing to have in-put into EU policy debates.
…..We started on the afternoon of the 15th with a workshop on urban commons where local commoners shared their experiences with the Brussels Community Land Trust and the urban renaissance in the Josaphat neighborhood at the self-governed center Zinneke. Dinner was followed by a joint discussion and exchange with DIEM 25. The idea was to look for synergies with DIEM 25, the movement for a new social and more democratic Europe.
There was a frank discussion about the relationship between “the left” and local commons movements, between practical examples of building alternatives on the ground and macro political and economic visions of Europe. People talked about content and philosophy, about politics, but also about whom we are addressing, and including or excluding in our narrative. We talked about building broader coalitions on the ground and not erecting walls with academic language and grandiose theories, of how to attract conservative commoners and how to confront or appease populists and xenophobes.
In the course of the meetings ad-hoc working groups were created to continue working on issues such as urban commons, financing of the commons and the future of the commons assembly. To complement ongoing online dialogues, different face-to-face meetings are now planned in 2017 and 2018, with offers to host them in London and Madrid.
Bloemen and Hammerstein report that the Assembly felt like “an explosion of energy. More then an Assembly, it felt like the birth of a political movement.” You can see a three-and-a-half hour video of the Assembly held in the Parliament chamber here. You can also check out some short, lively videos introducing the European Commons Assembly. For updates, you can join a mailing list by sending an email to commonswatch/at/lists.p2pfoundation.net.