Commoners hit the capital of Europe: Commons Assembly in Brussels

22 November 2016- In the wake of Trump´s shocking victory and in the midst of a deep EU crisis accelerated by Brexit many commons activists around Europe have reacted with a sense of “Don´t mourn, commonify!”.  The current economic order has left many behind, has alienated many from the establishment and in order to resist the old, we need to be actively building the new at the same time.  For this there is a clear role for the European Union.

From the 15th to the 17th of November the 1st European Assembly of the Commons took place in Brussels over the course of 3 days. 

For the first time commoners from around Europe met in the European Parliament in Brussels.  Over 150 Europeans came to Brussels to discuss European politics, policy proposals and the protection of the commons. The aims:  To establish new synergies, to show solidarity, to reclaim Europe from the bottom-up and, overall, to start a visible commons movement with a European focus.   For the first time Europe´s democratically elected Members of the European Parliament exchanged views with a “Commons Assembly” made up of an explosively creative myriad of urban regenerators, knowledge sharers, energy cooperativists, community artists, food producers as well as disruptive social hackers of many different flavours.

There was admittedly some culture shock: for some of the participants it was quite difficult and even contradictory to think and speak comfortably as commoners in the stiff, formal, hierarchical institutional setting of the European Parliament.  Nevertheless, in the parliamentary committee chamber packed with commoners and EU policy makers, with some of the MEPs even sitting the ground, the atmosphere was inviting. Leading commons thinkers and activists Yochai Benkler, Ugo Mattei en Janet Sanz send their best wishes with brief video contributions. Story based example of commons initiatives such as community wifi infrastructures and Barcelona urban commons initiatives where shared. The results of months of participative policy co-creation were presented and discussed: Proposals on community energy, participatory democracy, land governance and the natural commons. The MEPS in turn presented their proposal on the collaborative economy, which led to passionate discussion.

Work on these proposals and others will continue as will an organized exchange views between supporting MEPs (members of the EP intergroup on commons goods & public services), and commoners wishing to have in-put into EU policy debates.  The configuration of this platform will take shape over the next few months. There is a real need to put forth EU policy objectives, laws and financing that facilitate and even partner with commons initiatives. At the same time many local commoners must fight against obstructive barriers from rigid laws and policies that favor centralized, extractive money making operations.

This movement of commoners has been growing across Europe over the last decade, but last week it came together for the first time in a transnational European constellation. The objectives of the meetings were multiple but the foremost goal was to connect and form a stable but informal transnational commons movement in Europe. The political energy generated by bringing all these people together in this context was tremendous.

One of the great beauties of this meeting in Brussels was the intellectual and practical cross-pollinations, the fruitful networking of an exceptional group of experienced, committed people. In the course of the meetings ad-hoc working groups were created to continue working on issues such as urban commons, financing of the commons and the future of the commons assembly. To compliment on going online dialogues, different face to face meetings are now planned in 2017 and 2018, with offers to host them in London and Madrid.

We started on the afternoon of the 15th with a workshop on urban commons where local commoners shared their experiences with the Brussels Community Land Trust and the urban renaissance in the Josaphat neighborhood at the self-governed center Zinneke. Dinner was followed by a joint discussion and exchange with DIEM 25.  The idea was to look for synergies with DIEM 25, the movement for a new social and more democratic Europe. There was a frank discussion about the relationship between “the left” and local commons movements, between practical examples of building alternatives on the ground and macro political and economic visions of Europe.  People talked about content and philosophy, about politics, but also about whom we are addressing, and including or excluding in our narrative. We talked about building broader coalitions on the ground and not erecting walls with academic language and grandiose theories, of how to attract conservative commoners and how to confront or appease populists and xenophobes.

The meeting took us so much further then where we were before: there was an explosion of energy and more then an Assembly, it felt like the birth of a political movement

Sophie Bloemen & David Hammerstein


2016-11-22 11:13:52 – Commonsnetwork