As Europeans struggle to deal with their multiple economic and political crises – and now, the unreliable support of the United States – it may be time to consider some serious ideas that go beyond the standard left/right framework and open up some new conversations. That is the goal of a recent report, “Supporting the Commons: Opportunities in the EU Policy Landscape,” released by the Berlin-based organization Commons Network. The report calls on EU politicians and policymakers to embrace the commons as a fresh approach to Europe’s deep structural problems and social alienation. (Executive Summary here.)
The prevailing EU neoliberal economic and social policies have a familiar, retrograde focus: Increase market growth at all costs, deregulate and privatize while reducing government spending, social protections and services. This approach is failing miserably and highly unpopular, especially in France, Italy, Spain and Greece. But politicians cannot seem to escape this box, and even where leftist reformers win state power, as with Syriza in Greece, international capital (in the guise of neoliberal politicians) overwhelm them. Even state sovereignty is not enough!
So how might the commons help instigate a new political discussion? The Commons Network report makes clear that the challenge is not about policy tweaks. A new worldview is needed. A holistic systems perspective is needed.
The report opens with a fitting quotation by Donella Meadows, the great environmental scientist:
“Pretending that something doesn’t exist if it’s hard to quantify leads to faulty models. ... Human beings have been endowed with the ability to count but also with the ability to assess quality. … No one can define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point towards their presence or absence, they will cease to exist.”
Who is going to stand up for all the uncountable forces that make our lives liveable? How can The System begin to take account of those things that can’t be tabulated on budget spreadsheets or aggregated into Gross Domestic Product?