Commons-Based Political Ideas for a New Europe

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* Book: Our Commons: Political Ideas for a New Europe. Ed. by Sophie Bloemen and Thomas de Groot. Commons Network, 2019



"Our Commons: Political Ideas for a New Europe is a collection of essays, case studies and interviews about the commons, published right before the European Elections of May 2019. The book showcases the wealth of transformative ideas that the international commons movement has to offer. With contributions by Kate Raworth, David Bollier, George Monbiot and many others, Our Commons is a political call to arms to all Europeans to embrace the commons and build a new Europe.

Commons Network’s very own Sophie Bloemen and Thomas de Groot worked on this book for almost two years, doing research and interviews, working with academics, policy makers, authors and activists to paint a colourful picture of the commons as the blueprint for a new future, one that is inclusive, ecologically sustainable, equitable, democratic, collaborative, creative and resilient.

Our Commons features reflections on the enclosure of knowledge and the monopolisation of the digital sphere, stories about renewable energy cooperatives and community foodwaste initiatives and urgent pleas to see the city as a commons and to treat health as a common good. Published by the Institute of Network Cultures, the book is first published online as an e-book, free for all to download and share and as a printable PDF. The book will also be available on a wide variety of print-on-demand platforms." (


Textual Summary

"Kate Raworth and George Monbiot invited us to Oxford to discuss the role of the commons in their work, which led to the second chapter. In our conversation, George Monbiot addresses the political potential of the commons as a fundamental building block for a new ‘politics of belonging’. Kate Raworth explains how the commons can help us arrive at a new, different economy, one that serves people and planet.

In the next chapter, we continue to re-think what aspects of our daily life belong to the domain of the market and the commons. Energy as a commons is presented by Commons Network co-founder David Hammerstein with a clear message: unless we accept de-growth as the only viable path forward, no amount of renewable energy will help us. Cecile Blanchet takes us on a journey to an energy cooperative in chapter 4, setting the scene for a good overview of the current debate on renewables and energy democracy.

In chapter 5, Jose Luis Vivero-Pol offers a passionate plea for food as commons. Food as a system, from farmer to our plate, from the cultural notion of food to its function in our society, should never be a commodity, he argues. In chapter 6, Thomas de Groot investigates how commoners on the ground are bringing this idea to life, in a case study of FoodTopia in Spain and BuurtBuik in The Netherlands.

Urban policies are of critical importance to the emergence of the commons. The groundbreaking work that Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione have done in the emerging field of urban commons gives us tools to do this. In chapter 7, they describe how they arrived at their vision. In chapter 8, Doina Petrescu and Constantin Petcou deliver an urgent appeal to architects to embrace the commons through their case study on R-Urban and ‘aaa’, a collective of autonomous architects that take the commons as the foundational principle of their work. George Monbiot returns in chapter 9, to tell the story of Barking and Dagenham, one of the only ‘Leave-voting’ boroughs in the London area. Monbiot convincingly presents this case study as the potential start of a national transformation.

A citizen-based digital sphere that works for people? In chapter 10, Sophie Bloemen, Alek Tarkowski and Paul Keller present their new vision for a digital Europe, built on core principles like decentralisation and digital commons. Democratic ownership is a path forward, away from an economic dead end. That is why, in chapter 11, we asked Trebor Scholz to write about platform cooperatives, which are a good example of democratising the internet. How hard it is to imagine a different internet, one without near-monopolies from SIlicon Valley and surveillance capitalism, is shown by Commons Network fellow Mai Ishikawa Sutton in chapter 12.

As long as we refuse to see biomedical knowledge as a commons, we will never achieve full accessibility to medicines. That is what Sophie Bloemen argues in chapter 13, in her invocation of the commons to bolster the access to medicines movement. How this might work in practice is demonstrated in chapters 14 and 15, where we present the cases of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) and the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). Benjamin Coriat and co-authors of DNDi brief us in detail about how a non-profit medicines developer functions as a commons. MPP-founder Ellen ’t Hoen gives us a detailed account of the vision and the process that led to the Patent Pool.

Finally, we talk to commons-thinkers Michel Bauwens, Silke Helfrich and David Bollier for an in-depth discussion about the commons movement, what commoners can do for Europe and vice versa." (


1. Introduction - by Thomas de Groot and Sophie Bloemen .............................8

2. The Potential of the Commons - with Kate Raworth and George Monbiot ...14


3. Commons-Based Renewable Energy in the Age of Climate Collapse - by David Hammerstein ... 24

4. Energy Commons: The Missing Link Between Energy Transition and Climate Justice - by Cecile Blanchet ...32


5. Territories of Commons in Europe: Niches of a Much Needed Transition - by Jose Luis Vivero Pol ...40 (see: Territories of Commons in Europe as Niches of a Much Needed Transition

6. Social Circularity: Food-sharing Platforms Are Re-inventing Urban Solidarity - by Thomas de Grootm...45


7. Ostrom in the City: Design Principles and Practices for the Urban Commons - by Christian Iaione and Sheila Foster ...52

8. Designing, Sustaining and Defending Resilient Urban Commons - by Doina Petrescu and Constantin Petcou ...63

9. Could This Local Experiment Be the Start of a National Transformation? - by George Monbiot ...70


10. A New Vision for a Shared Digital Europe - by Alek Tarkowski, Paul Keller and Sophie Bloemen ...76

11. Own This! A Portfolio of Platform Cooperativism in Progress - by Trebor Scholz ...84

12. Digital Commoning and the Fight for a Human-Centered Internet - by Mai Ishikawa Sutton ...89


13. From Lab to Commons: Health as a Common Good - by Sophie Bloemen ...98

14. The Medicines Patent Pool: A Remedy for the Anti-Commonsby Ellen ‘t Hoen ...106

15. Developing Drugs through the Commons - by Jean-Francois Alesandrini and Benjamin Coriat ... 113


16. On the Commons and Europe - with Michel Bauwens, Silke Helfrich and David Bollier ...122


From the editor's introduction

Sophie Bloemen and Thomas De Groot:

"Having learned about the different practices and forms of commons and what they need from institutions to thrive, we decided to bring it all together. Here, we showcase the ideas, the people, the practices and the policy implications. This book offers an insight into this growing movement. While we are writing this, new commons initiatives are emerging, adding to the theories and practies and further developing the discourse.

Working on the commons, we have come to observe transformative ideas emerging all around us. More and more people dare to imagine radically different futures, beyond ‘there is no alternative’. More and more policymakers are adopting new concepts like food sovereignty or ‘the Doughnut’. More and more activists are merging anti-racism and eco-feminism in one intersectional and emancipatory theory of change. Even de-growth, a concept that is still too radical for most greens and social-democrats, is slowly becoming more mainstream. We have moved past the neoliberal consensus. We have come to recognize the limits of our planet and the boundaries of the living world as we respect our embedded role in it.

The commons are not primarily a political theory, but first and foremost a practice emerging from the bottom-up. Everywhere, people are engaging in alternative practices as part of the struggle for ecological, social and cultural transition within their communities. Local energy cooperatives are prioritising community wealth and open access medical journals are sharing knowledge – these practices represent social and cultural shifts in value models.

While societal shifts are often framed in terms of economy or technologies, they are rooted in cultural change. Our culture reflects and shapes our values and how we attribute meaning to our lives. Many current community-led and social innovation initiatives contain strong elements of practical cultural change. New social values and practices are enabling communities to be generative instead of extractive. This is creating a new civic and cultural ethic that is breaking with conventional notions of citizenship and participation.

The regeneration activities of commoners showcase, above all, cultural manifestations of new ways of daily life.

The European Union and its member states have a huge role to play in facilitating social and ecological transition. The political project of the European Union could be truly transformative. Yet for now, our institutions are firmly grounded in outdated frames of thinking. Most of the policy that originates in Brussels is based on endless growth, markets and competition. In order to transition to a different economy and society, we must first have a vision. It is crucial that a large transformative vision gains the support of institutions and policymakers.

The commons often emerge from the bottom up; they are dependent on community processes and their logic is mostly at odds with the EU’s institutional logic. However, we believe there is an important role for EU politics and policy to create the right incentives, to remove hurdles and to support this re-emerging sector. Supporting communities means addressing the sense of losing control, identity and security. As a post-nationalist project, the EU will, ideally, undergo a change in consciousness away from nationalism, moving toward a flexible mode of citizenship that allows for multiple belongings.

This publication explores these new politics and describes the commons in different spheres of society, economy and politics. With these stories, positions, and visions we aim to inspire but also give clear direction. The book is divided into seven thematic sections. Most sections have a theoretical position and a practical case study. All sections feature influential thinkers whose voices we want to amplify. This book is comprised of the insights of more than 20 writers, activists and pioneers, standing on the shoulders of hundreds more." (

More excerpts


Thomas De Groot:

"The book that you helped us make, 'Our Commons: Political Ideas for a New Europe', is now out in the world.

Since our launch in May, many people have read the book. We have had enthusiastic responses from Australia, Greece, France, USA, Norway, Austria, Italy, India and many other places.

The book is read widely within the municipal government of Amsterdam, one of our partners. UK think tank Nesta wants to organise a release event in London. ROAR Magazine did a cross publication of the energy article from the book.

UK think tank Common Wealth wants us to write about it for their website. The Sydney Commons Lab called us for tips on how to kick start a commons movement in Australia. The Congress on Basic Income in Hyderabad, India invited us to speak about the European commons movement (unfortunately we didn't have enough resources to go) together with the Goa Foundation.

A school teacher in Athens wanted hard copies to share with her high school pupils. The Berlin ‘Temporary Library for Creating Commons’ wants to add a copy to their collection. Follow The Money, a Dutch investigative journalism platform, wants us to write essays about technology and biomedical knowledge as a commons.

The Dutch social welfare organisation wants us to help them with a commons vision, Belgian think tank Ecopolis wants us to present the book in Brussels in November...

For a book that was edited and written in spare time, with contributors who all helped out because they care, this publication did really well. We think we achieved maximum impact, based on the limited resources we have. And that was the goal, to make more people aware of the commons and hopefully mobilise them to get involved. We are happy with the result.

Of course, things can always be better. The process of publishing the book was tiresome, let's just say that we have learned a lot from it. There were language mistakes. There are probably a million things that we didn't cover, and a million other things that we would say differently now, looking back.

But overall, it was a pleasure to make this book, to work with you in this creative way, and to show the people around us what we do and what we fight for. So this email is meant as an update, but also as a thank you note, we hope you feel as proud and content as we do." (email September 2019)

More information

Please get in touch at [email protected]