Enacting the Commons
= "A project to explore how the commons transform public action in Europe".
Enacting the commons will allow us to lead 8 learning expeditions to meet inspiring initiatives in Europe
"In a time when old systems are tightening, when borders are sources of tensions, 8 public and civil society stakeholders* have joined their forces, with the support of the European Erasmus programme, to draw inspiration from the experiences conducted in Europe in the field of these new forms of governance called “common”. This movement is blooming in Europe, gradually involving elected representatives and public administrations, from whom it must find support and legitimacy to continue growing. Potential vector for revitalizing local citizenship? Alternative path between public management and market economy? Transformation lever for public administrations? Opportunity for new political narratives to emerge? These are some of the questions we are looking forward to exploring in this two-year project: Enacting the commons – How do the commons transform public action in Europe ?
As our cities see challenges multiply, mistrust of political institutions increases, local governments see their resources decrease and people demand renewed forms of engagement in city’s life, everywhere in the world, and especially in Europe, civil society organizations, cities and regions are exploring the issue of “commonalities”. By common, we mean a resource that is shared, managed and maintained collectively by a community; the community establishes rules in order to preserve and perpetuate this resource while providing the possibility of using it by all.
In several Italian cities, it is citizens’ groups that organize themselves to take charge of and animate, with the support of municipalities, cultural or heritage sites, natural spaces, social services, resources such as water for example. In the Netherlands, citizen renewable energy cooperatives that offer new energy management opportunities in conjunction with public actors. In Gent, a major transition plan to the communes launched by the city with the help of the Peer-to-peer Foundation, which is reflected in its policy towards the temporary use of vacant spaces. All these initiatives, among many others, are exploring, between state control and market mechanisms, a third way to rethink the collective management of so-called “common” goods, involving new economic, legal, political, relational and other approaches.
What about France? While the movement is also growing, local authorities are timidly involved in it, in a cultural context where the preponderant role of the State may leave less scope for imagining more composite scores as an alternative to the public/private dichotomy. However, we can also speak here of a “moment of the commons”; more and more cities are seeking, like Brest, Grenoble, or the European Metropolis of Lille, to put this notion “into action”. The context of the democratic and social crisis is encouraging administrations to experiment with more resilient, open and cooperative models. “In a common management, we put everyone around the table and reinvent the forms that this table will have,” describes Xavier Perrin, who brings this subject to the heart of the City of Grenoble.
There is indeed a challenge for public authorities to be in motion and to respond to the transformations taking place in societies: search for more horizontal decision-making methods, new ways of acting in response to major issues such as the ecological crisis; desire to re-appropriate resources, in response to forms of privatization for example (public space, natural resources, etc.); need to include the plurality of stakeholders, to pose diversity as a factor for enrichment and to invent new forms of social justice, etc. “The commons are not “the” miracle solution but represent an opportunity to rediscover a collective action locally, by uniting creative complementary wills, as well as to embrace new values of sharing, resilience and care for others and the environment. “explains Gilda Farrell, Head of the Social Cohesion Division at the Council of Europe
In some cities, the questioning is initiated by participatory budgets, for example, which introduces broader challenges within the local government administration: how to create the transversality and cooperation necessary to transform these citizens’ wishes into reality on the territory? Finding organizational and institutional solutions to involve the residents in the continuity of the projects and to federate the energies for that purpose? Test new legal and technical forms to get out of a state of verticality, where everything is governed by prohibitions or property rights, to allow experimentation, shared use, etc.? Repositioning public action and its agents, especially these who are in contact with inhabitants on a daily basis, in new roles and inventing new interfaces with users to co-produce the city, while avoiding public disengagement or new appropriation? How do these projects contribute to new narratives of the territory, how do they allow to embody meaning, without participating in a new “commons washing”?" (http://enactingthecommons.la27eregion.fr/2019/03/13/enacting-the-commons-here-we-ar/?lang=en)
First Expedition to Italy
"Expedition # 1 – Italy, juridical creativity at the service of the commons?
In a context of waves of privatization of public properties and services, of austerity policies in recent decades, Italy saw in the 2000s the emergence of a social movement around urban commons, and citizens increasingly g the governance of the resources that concern them.
The recent history of the municipalities in Italy is characterised in particular by the definition of the legal category of common property by the Rodotà Commission, established by the Prodi Government in 2007: “property that is functionally useful for the exercise of fundamental rights and the free development of the person”. While the law that was supposed to translate the commission’s work into Italian law was never adopted, it has nevertheless largely contributed to debates and experimentations in the countr ;, so has the national Referendum on “Aqua Beni Communi” in 2011, in which 95% of voters voted to keep water public.
These two events helped to forge a context for a multitude of initiatives, political and academic reflections on commons that are being deployed today, marked in particular by new developments in the legal field.
The Bologna Charter is emblematic of this movement : a pact drawn up in 2014 by a laboratory of lawyers and the municipality, taking the opportunity of a legal vacuum to offer a framework for “collaboration between citizens and the administration for the maintenance and regeneration of urban commons”; the pact is a regulatory commitment allowing individuals, legal persons or non-instituted collectives, to participate themselves in the performance of part of tasks of general interest or public service, with the support and under the supervision of the administration. Nearly 180 various cooperation agreements have been concluded; a vast urban co-governance programme has been set up, with the objective of laying the foundations for a “co-city”, a collaborative ecosystem to meet the basic needs of the population by developing the local cooperative economy and collaborations between the public, private and common sectors.
The initiative has also inspired many other cities, such as Turin and the Co-City project (with the support of EU Urban inovative action), which aims to explore how resource management in the form of commons through the legal instrument of pacts can provide responses to poverty and socio-spatial divides. This aim is now guiding all the pacts developed with the municipality’s support.
Among the questions we will explore during this first expedition:
1 – A new role and new modalities of action for the public actor ? How does the public actor integrate his new role as an intermediary and support for self-organized joint initiatives? How, in a variety of local contexts, do legal mechanisms allow for a redistribution of powers, new partnership modalities, etc.? To which extent can they inspire French actors ?
2 – Do the pacts contribute to expand the democratic space, find new answers to territorial issues… or support the retirement of public actors ? By promoting direct citizen engagement, do pacts allow new responses to social, economic and other challenges to be found? How do these initiatives challenge the impact of public action? Do they pose the risk of disempowerment of public institutions, ultimately relying on citizens to ensure the maintenance of collective services from which they emerge ?
3 - Towards new political narratives ? Can this approach of the commons contribute to the reconstruction of a strong political narrative in a context of democratic crisis? Is the multitude of initiatives led by local authorities succeeding on a larger scale – national, European, to move forward? Behind an approach by the commons that is far from being generic, what controversies, what diversity of visions of public action can be read ?" (http://enactingthecommons.la27eregion.fr/2019/03/13/expedition-1-italy-juridical-creativity-at-the-service-of-the-commons/?lang=en)