A project to explore how the commons transform public action in Europe
Expedition # 1 – Italy, juridical creativity to serve the commons?

In a context of waves of privatization of public property 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 contribute to the governance of the resources that concern them.

The recent history of the municipalities in Italy is characterised 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 country ; 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 withdrawal 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 ?

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