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Personal and Community Response to Land Policy Proposal

By Joám Evans Pim, from the Frojám Commons Community (Galiza)

0. Introduction

The three policy proposals that are more relevant to the work and accumulated knowledge of the Frojám Commons Community are 5. Land, 11. Natural Commons, and 25. Ecovillages. However, pads have not been created for any of these items so the comments will be general, also considering the possibility of merging these items.

1 What are the existing experiences of the commons movement in this field, and initiatives of commoning related to this issue ?

The Galizan experience with the commons is very much related to traditional common land management through a special form of "property", or rather "stewardship", that is connected to the communities as open human groups. Unlike other places in Europe where traditional land commons have been mostly destroyed, much of the land in the Galizan countryside is still commons with some 3,000 communities directly managing its resources. Together with the Portuguese "Baldios" this represents a continuing experience of commons management, related not only to land but also to common infrastructures such as drinking water systems, forestry management equipment and other emerging community economies. However, the commons are still threatened by public policies that are unaware or not adapted to this very particular form of property and resource management.

2. Why is this proposal pertinent to be discussed at the European scale, with the EU institution, in the EU Agenda. It could also be because it is an urgent matter to introduce at this scale of policy.

Traditional land commons are a transnational feature of European heritage that deserve special recognition and protection after centuries of enclosures and usurpations. They also represent a living remnant of traditional commons management that can be applied to other commons in society and in many instances are also an example of direct assembly democracy that can be replicated on other settings applying the EU's principle of subsidiarity in decision-making.

3. What are the existing components to this commons?

  • Common land and/or other elements, such as basic infrastructure, community economies, etc.
  • Community management and decision-making trough direct assembly democracy.
  • Existing practices of community solidarity and mutual help and support.

4. What are the main ideas the commoners are reclaiming or struggling for in this field?

This form of commons has been in open conflict with the State for centuries, until it was recently recognized in the 1970s. The main issues are still related to lack of understanding and recognition by the administration, that often considers private or public administration are better than community management. This has often lead to forced expropriation for private enterprises that are considered of "public interest" by the State, such as mines, landfills, dams, etc. Communities are disenfranchised and have no say regarding their own commons once they are put within the broad borders of "public interest". Surprisingly, this sometimes even includes cases of natural preservation, where the accumulated experience of community based natural conservation is completely ignored.

5. What are the already experimented measures in this field and where (in a particular country? part of Europe? Elsewhere?

The ICCA initiative (Indigenous People's and Community Conserved Areas) is full of relevant examples of community empowerment to manage commons combining the preservation of traditional life-styles and nature itself. In Galiza, an interesting figure for Natural Preserved Areas was put forward, called EPIN (Private Natural Interest Spaces), that allowed communities to set their own demarcated natural conservation areas (the term "Private" is unfortunate, but Commons Lands in Galiza are considered "private" in contrast to "public", meaning "state-owned"). However, only one such area exists and no funding has been made available for such initiatives. Legal measures such as the recent recognition by the Spanish Constitutional Court recognizing the "imprescriptibility" of the commons could and should be replicated in other settings to allow for the reestablishment of commons that have been historically subjected to illegitimate enclosures.

6. Who are the actors involved in these struggles?

Primary actors need to be the communities, empowered and recognized to defend their own interests and traditional logics of solidarity, direct assembly democracy and natural conservation. Support and involvement by activists, researchers and policy-makers can sometimes be problematic, but can open new opportunities for revitalization of the commons and both traditional and new forms of management common goods.

7. How could these commons or commoning action be reinforced, scaled up, or replicated?

EU political recognition to traditional land commons as a form of European heritage would be important, so would explicit recognition of their traditional forms of natural conservartion, as pointed out by ICCA. Further comparative research is also needed to understand contemporary land commons, from traditional communities to newly formed ecovillages, that currently share many dynamics and challenges. In rural areas, EU funding through LEADER Rural Development and other programs and initiatives should encourage commons-lead or -focused initiatives, targeting not only traditional commons but new commons formed around the ancestral social and economic practices around the commons. Commons need to be considered as an integral part of the solution to rural population desertification in much of Europe.

8. What are the changes (mobilisation, new law, declaration, education, …) required to move forward?

Common Land (land not owned by the state or private individuals, but by communities) should be explicitly recognized as a distinct form of property in Europe, with local and regional variations throughout the continent. Explicit recognition of this reality would encourage its protection and restoration. The European Commons Assembly, or a ECA-lead initiative, could be the formation of a new body representing communities from around the continent. EU limitations on the right of forced expropriation by the State should also aim to stop the new wave of enclosures that is currently taking place. Special focus should be provided to Commons Natural Conservation initiatives, and commons ownership over community economic projects, including the development of food and energy initiatives that are based on the community use of the commons (vs. intervention of private corporations through forced expropriation or unfavorable contracts drafted and signed under the threat of use of this extreme form of State-sanctioned enclosure).

9. What are the resources needed?

A convergence of commoners, activists, researchers and policy-makers to make these changes and some of the proposed initiatives possible. Mobilization of resources should include knowledge (both traditional and social and academic), funding and political will.

European Commons Assembly/Policy Proposals