European Charter of the Commons Campaign

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= A European Citizen's Initiative for a European Charter of the Commons was initiated by the municipality of Naples, with the the first high level technical meeting of jurists taking place recently (in December) at the International University College of Turin.


Second Meeting planned in Rome for Feb 11th


“The dichotomy of private property and the state, on which the current constitutional tradition is grounded, has proven itself incapable of resisting the distortions produced by more than 20 years of neoliberal order. The outcome has been a global and severe constitutional imbalance, favoring the private sector and specifically corporate interests at the expense of the people.

Massive transfers of common resources from the public to the private sphere are occurring throughout the world, with total disregard of any constitutional guarantees of the public interest, due process, and just compensation. Our democracies are increasingly being jeopardized by collusive state and market actors; government representatives that put the short term profits of individuals and corporations ahead of the interests of the common people.

From Greece to Spain, from Tunisia to Egypt, from Italy to Bolivia, Ecuador, rural India and China, the people are increasingly aware of the need for a different model of globalization. These activists are currently engaged in acts of reclaiming commons all around the world. From those resisting the privatization of resources (for example in Italy with the water referendum) to the recent occupations of public spaces against neoliberalism ( for example the Indignados in Spain and the people of Greece). In solidarity with these movements, we initiate a campaign for the European Charter of the Commons.

The International University College and its Institute for the Study of Political Economy and Law together with the Municipality of Naples, the Institut international D’etudes et recherches sur les biens communs, and European Alternatives are launching under the Lisbon Treaty Regulation No. 211/2011, a European Citizen Initiative for the European Charter of the Commons, pursuing the legal status and protection of the commons within the European Union.

We define the Commons as two part; it is both about reclaiming access to fundamental resources as well as the very democratic process that governs their distribution Resources that are fundamental to human life include both natural commons like water, food, energy and the atmosphere, as well as man made commons, like technology, medicine, the internet and culture. Reclaiming the commons also requires a reshaping of the democratic process as it stands today, offering an alternative to the model that has prevailed under state and market models. Governing the commons demands a shift of power from the centralized state and free market to local communities, placing the power to satisfy the long term needs of these communities as well as those of future generations, back into the hands of community member through bottom up, local and direct democracy.” (


Draft Version

“European Charter of the Commons (version created at IUC on December 2nd and 3rd)

Legal Basis (to be completed)

The Problem

1. There is an immediate and urgent need to defend the commonwealth of Europe from the all pervasive economic logic that is producing crisis and social suffering.

2. A true commonwealth of Europe is possible only by means of constitutional safeguards of the commons through a direct participatory process.

3. A severe imbalance of global power favoring the unaccountable corporate sector over public institutions has produced in Europe an unsustainable transfer of authority from the public to the private sector, which serves the profit of the few over the interests of the many.

4. State and corporate interests are today concurring in an incremental process of enclosure of the commons, limiting common spaces, turning the citizens into individualized consumers, in a constant and apparently irresistible process of commodification of nature, culture and heritage.

5. It is impossible to address the increasing European democratic deficit through an intergovernmental cession of State sovereignty, because the current power ratio, the collusion between the private and public sectors, between state and market actors, precludes national elected officials to represent the common interests of the people.

6. The people hereby through this Charter take direct responsibility in building our European commonwealth on local, national and supranational levels.

The Vision

7. The commons must be rediscovered and fully appreciated as collective goods or services to which access is necessary for a balanced fulfillment of the fundamental needs of the people.

8. All natural and social resources that the people, in their different contexts, create, recognize and claim as commons must be governed in the logic of access and not of exclusion, of quality of relationship rather than quantitative logic, which places the commons at the center of political organization.

9. It is necessary that the commons are understood not only as living resources, such as forests, biodiversity, water, glaciers, seabeds, shores, energy, knowledge and cultural goods, but also as organized public services, such as schools, healthcare facilities, and transportation.

10. The interest and ability of future generations to equal access the commons must always be taken into consideration in any kind of public or private decision affecting them.

11. All the commons, no matter if publicly or privately owned, shall be endowed with a model of governance that rejects the principle of profit and embraces that of care, reproduction and sustainability.

12. The Charter shall include a Europe- wide catalogue of the commons to be updated regularly because the commons, not being a mere commodity, are a highly dynamic social institution changing in time and space.

13. Such catalogue must be integral part of a Constitutional process, based on the irreversibility of ecological legal protection, eventually to be granted constitutional status as heritage of Europe in trust for future generations.

The Demand

14. Privatization and liberalization of public services to private competition, just like expropriation of private property, must occur only when there is a documented public interest, declared by law and subject to judicial supervision of both national and European Courts. 15. In the exceptional cases in which privatization may occur, there must be full compensation, recognized and guaranteed ex ante to restore the commons.

16. Everybody can always access the courts of law to protect the commons by mean of injunctive relief.

17. Only the direct, constitutional protection of the commons can guarantee a new, correct balance between the public and the private sector.

18. An immediate moratorium on all privatization and liberalization of the commons must be introduced in order to allow the making of a legitimate Charter of the Commons.

19. A Directive should be issued to all member states to provide for the protection of the commons according to the above. We hereby require the Commission to transform this popular citizen’s initiative into a new form of legitimate and democratic European Constitutional Law. The Commission must take all the necessary steps in order for the European Parliament, to be elected in 2014, to be granted Constitutional Assembly Status in order to adopt a Constitution of the Commons.”


First Workshop

“On the 2nd and 3rd of December, 2011, the International University College of Turin hosted (along with the Department of Economics “S. Cognetti de Martiis” of the University of Turin) an International workshop on a Draft European Charter of the Commons. The workshop brought together economists, philosophers, social theorists, lawyers and activists to discuss the proposal for a European Charter of the Commons to be presented to the EU Commission as a European Citizens’ Initiative (for those that are unfamiliar with ECIs, these are proposals which EU citizens may present to the Commission, requesting the latter to propose a given legal act that is deemed necessary for the implementation of the European Treaties).

I am not going to give a detailed account here of the myriad discussions that took place in that context, also in order not to jump start the activist networks and the promoters that are behind this initiative. Instead, I am going to use this as an opportunity to elucidate the idea of “cultural performance”, the brainchild of American sociologist Jeffrey Alexander, which I believe allows one (particularly those that took part to the workshop) to make sense of why certain discussions took place, and why they were properly relevant to the task of drafting a European Charter of the Commons.

For Alexander, the increasing complexity of modern societies makes it harder to stage “social performances“ (i.e. instances of cultural communication) that command the same allegiance and respect as rituals did in simpler societies. This is because many of the elements of a social performance (like the background representations upon which the performance builds, actors, means of symbolic production, mise-en-scène and audiences) have become increasingly de-fused, i.e. they are further and further apart and more fragmented, making it harder to achieve the compelling, moving character of ritual.

In light of this, it is crucial, for a social performance to be successful, that it be capable of bringing together once again all such elements in a seamless fashion, allowing a “flow” of meaning that project the background representations, through the actors and the mise-en-scène of their performance, to the intended audience. When this happens, “[t]he mere action of performing accomplishes the performance’s intended effect”.

So, for example, one of the problems faced by a Draft European Charter of the Commons is to be able to “speak” to its intended audience, which – however – is fragmented, including on the one hand the EC Commission (and its focus on Treaty implementation, implying allegiance to the free-market ideology broadly embedded in the Treaties) and, on the other, “the commoners of Europe” which – despite not being a uniform group themselves – seem however to be quite distant from the positions that the Commission is institutionally bound to take. Is it even possible to stage a “performance” that be able to speak to both? And how to stage a performance that, purely by being staged, achieve its intended effect of projecting given representations about the “commons” (in the broadest possible sense) onto the desired audience?

These questions show how the choices to be faced here were not easy, confronting participants with the dilemma of drafting a narrow proposal that appealed to the Commission but would not be recognisable by commoners as their charter, or retain boldness and “authenticity” and speak to the commoners and for the commoners. This choice, it seems to me, appeared to be inevitable in the light of the basic (and deep) fragmentation of the dual audience to which the Charter is directed (EC Commission on the one hand, European commoners on the other). Eventually, a consensus seems to have emerged for a bold project that be true to the “constitutional” aspiration that underpins it, even at the risk of facing rejection by the Commission. As a consequence, I believe, the Charter of the Commons, as a performance, will speak differently to the two audiences.

On the one hand, as far as the EU Commission is concerned, if the proposal were to retain its boldness it would not so much attempt to engage the latter in a debate on the commons – given the excessive distance in the respective positions – but rather to challenge the Commissions’ institutional role as the holder of a monopoly over legislative initiative within the European Union (perhaps as a choice, embedded in the Treaties by heads of state, to prevent initiatives “from below” that would otherwise bypass them).

On the other hand, the “performance” that the Charter ought to deliver to the European Commoners will, instead, retain broadness and diversity in a manner that speaks for the commons, understood as anything that can be managed in a participatory manner by a community, according to principles of “care, reproduction and sustainability” [2]. Most importantly, the drafting and submission of the Charter ought to enact an instance of “commoning”, bringing disparate audiences (e.g. from environmentalists to free software activists) together around a common project. The possibility to make the European Charter of the Commons an occasion for the Commoners of Europe to band together, retaining consistency – in their action – to their stated intentions, seems to me to be the most promising side of the whole project. If, in fact, the European Charter of the Commons will be able to enact an instance of commoning in putting forth a legal stance for the commons, it will indeed have achieved the point where “[t]he mere action of performing accomplishes the performance’s intended effect”.” (

?Rome Forum Announcement

“The Rome forum brings together over forty organisations, networks and social movements from at least seven European countries to take forward common transnational campaigns on the themes of the commons and minimum income within the fight for precarious working and living conditions, relying also on the new instrument of the European Citizens' Initiative. The event will be a real opportunity to build European networks and campaigns that will take concrete forms in follow-up meetings in Spain, the UK, Romania, Bulgaria and France in the following months to continue the work begun in Rome. The emphasis on concrete campaigns will be the starting point to engage in a reflection on the revision of the EU Treaties, to propose an alternative vision of Europe.

A European Citizen's Initiative for a European Charter of the Commons was initiated by the municipality of Naples, with the the first high level technical meeting of jurists taking place recently (in December) at the International University College of Turin. Proposals for an Initiative on minimum income have been taken forwards, amongst others, by the Basic Income Network, following the proposals advanced by the European Parliament in October 2010.

The Italian organisations behind this the event are the International University College Turin, European Alternatives, Teatro Valle, Centro Studi per l'Alternativa Comune, Municipality of Naples, Basic Income Network, Tilt, Il Manifesto, Rete della Conoscenza, Altramente and Arci.”