Can Europe Make It?

Forward the Commons! A unifying political vision for Europe

The idea of the commons offers the possibility to fundamentally change something without a revolution. This is what we will put forward at the European Commons Assembly in Brussels, November 15-17.

Till Gentzsch Sophie Bloemen
14 November 2016
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From November 15 to 17 the European Commons Assembly will meet in Brussels. It will be the first meeting of a dynamic coalition that has come together over the space of just a few months since its incipient meeting in Paris.

The assembly of ‘commoners’: of citizen initiatives, of activists and social innovators will be hosted in the European Parliament by the multi party Intergroup on Common Goods & Public Services chaired by the Portuguese MEP, Marisa Mattias.

The crisis of the European Union begs for new, unifying and constructive narratives – alternatives to the right-wing populist and nationalist wave that is getting fiercer every day. A commons approach holds the potential for a unified vision towards an alternative economy, a Europe from the bottom up and an ecological way of life.

The idea of the commons does not fit within the traditional ideological frameworks. However, it does provide a clear ethical perspective and helps appreciate and understand the value of people collectively stewarding resources without the dominant, centralized roles of the market or the state.  

Yet, the commons are not primarily a political theory but first and foremost a practice emerging from the bottom up. Everywhere people are engaged in alternative practices as part of the struggle for ecological, social and cultural transition within their communities.

All over Europe and the world, local initiatives are taking care of their direct environment, are sharing and stewarding knowledge online, and claiming natural resources as our commons. In these areas, the commons approach offers a new vocabulary for collective action and social justice. It opens up ways of reshaping processes for governance of resources by communities themselves.

The perspective unites many different struggles; the struggle for managing water as a common good, of managing our energy locally and sustainable, of being able to share knowledge, for affordable medicines and limiting patents, to struggles around the urban environment and citizen participation and new forms of democracy.

A central struggle is that of the knowledge commons. The digital knowledge commons are a key element of an alternative economy, and online commons projects have been been able to attain an impressive scale.

Creative commons licenses for cultural works, for example, are now over one billion. There is Wikipedia, by far the world’s largest and most used encyclopaedia and there is Firefox which offers a free and open source alternative to Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. According to a study done by the university of Maastricht about half of all administrative bodies in the EU are by now using open source-software.

“This shows how open access, decentralization and non-hierarchical methods of working together enable social and technological innovations”, say Julia Reda. Julia Reda (29), Pirate Party Member of the European Parliament is an outspoken supporter of commons initiatives. ‘’The idea of the commons offers the possibility to fundamentally change something without a revolution.”

As one of the '40 most influential MEPS’ she is a strong force for an open internet, the knowledge commons and ability to share knowledge online. Managing knowledge as commons implies having the ability to share knowledge and co-produce with peers, as well as ensuring equitable access to knowledge goods such as educational recourse and medicines.

For Julia the practice of creative commons is key. “People provide content for collective use and by doing so open up a new way of dealing with property. Commons require an active citizenship, whose activities shouldn’t be hindered by the state. Government support for these practices to achieve scale is the best scenario, but commons initiatives do not per se need state protection as many of the examples show. 

Together with hundreds of organisations and individuals Julia Reda will be taking part in the European Commons Assembly in the European Parliament. The fight for the knowledge commons could be one battle the Assembly might assist in.

In their joint call, at least, the Assembly states: "We make and freely share music, images, software, educational materials, scientific knowledge and the like. We have already succeeded in making some public-sector information accessible to all, including publicly-funded research, health knowledge and technology."

The Assembly will have three days of meetings in Brussels, present proposals in the European Parliament and discuss how to develop a platform for interaction with Members of European Parliament.

For more information on the Assembly see:

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