Sub-theme 1. Our common SDGs?
“Territories of commons in Europe”: a European research network to unveil the “invisible reality” of the European commons
According to EUROSTAT (2013), approximately 9 million hectares of EU land is identified as common land. Besides, in the last decades, several examples of innovative commons have been flourishing all over Europe to reinforce and revivify the still existing ones (e.g., Iniciativa Comunales, ICCA Consortium, CSAs, etc.). Common lands and its associated governance offer a more sustainable, socially inclusive, and resilient alternative to intensive agriculture and private/state property. For example, most common lands across Europe are officially protected (e.g., under the Natura 2000 Framework, or as national parks, biosphere reserves, etc.) and they have governance systems that reflect the multiple use and interests active in these spaces. Despite these considerations, there is not even a single mention to the common lands neither in the incoming Common Agricultural Policy (2023-2027) nor in the EU Green Deal. We claim that the “invisible reality” of the European commons cannot be ignored anymore, especially considering the new EU agri-environmental targets for the achievement of the UN SDGs. To this end, we built the “Territories of commons in Europe” research network. Through the involvement of about 65 scholars from 24 European countries, in the last two years, we have been collecting reports on the quantitative and qualitative extent of the commons, with the goal of providing a more systematic and complete picture beyond the scattered EU statistics. Different case studies from various European regions will be presented, as well as how all these different findings have been put together for a transversal and “pan-continental” analysis.
Panel 1.3. A
1. Nordic food commons: caught between the state and local communities
Umeå University, Sverige
In the Nordic countries (Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands; Finland, Iceland; Norway; and Sweden) the ancient collective property rights have largely been replaced by a private property natural resources regime. However, some of the features associated with commons can be found in relation to marine fishing, reindeer and sheep pasturing, game hunting, freshwater fishing, and foraging. The institutional rules regulating these food commons are to some extent guaranteed by the state but often combined with individual semi-property rights through fishing or hunting quotas, a number of allowed production units of reindeer husbandry or sheep farming as well as regulations of access rights. This creates complex layers of property rights as well as an unclear distinction between what can be considered public and private goods.
As a consequence, the management of these commons is associated with a number of institutional challenges related to the relationship between the state and the local communities over who shall have power over the commons, but also the relationship between traditional land use practices and extractive industries in particular related to the green transformation (e.g energy production, mining and infrastructure), and finally between competing values (e.g. anthropocentrism vs ecocentrism) often associated with the urban-rural divide.
To maintain the features associated with the remaining commons several institutional solutions such as co-management, rights-based approaches or landscape planning are either applied or discussed in the Nordic context. In this panel, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages, of these solutions to handle these complex dilemmas associated with the governance of the Nordic commons.
2. Where people and nature co-exist ‘unseen’: commons of Ireland and the UK
1University of Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, 2Ballyfermot College of Further Education, Ireland
Common land in Britain and Ireland has existed for over a thousand years evolving considerably over that time. As populations increased it became necessary for rights of custom to gradually become more formalised, and thus local practices evolved into property rights. In much of England and Wales the definition of Common Land is for private property over which third parties have legal rights allowing them to take the produce from the land. But this is a narrow definition and doesn’t cover all of England and Wales; and particularly in Scotland and Ireland where land is owned and managed communally. In addition the focus on legal definitions means that many activities that have taken place on commons through custom, as well as other land that is collectively owned and managed, is often excluded when thinking about ‘commons’.
Commons are important reservoirs of natural and cultural assets, something that is largely invisible in policy. While commons are designated and to some varying degrees protected, the focus on collaborative and culturally rich landscapes is not part of current thinking. Therefore policies that focus on a single issues, e.g. biodiversity, and regulations are not common-proofed to assess their impact on existing governance and management approaches. Consequently, financial support is not always available, putting them further as risk. This paper presents quantitative and qualitative data on commons and promotes a transformative approach based on governance approaches that recognise adaptation and collaboration within current structures.
3. Mapping the common territories in Central and Eastern Europe
1Institute of Economics and Finance, Warsaw University of Life Scienc, Polska, 2Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic, 3Institute of Rural and Agricultural Development, PAS, Poland, 4Rural Sociology Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, 5State University of Applied Sciences in Wloclawek, Poland, 6Economics of Natural Resources Department, University of National and World Economy, Bulgaria, 7Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany, 8Facultatea de Științe Politice, Romania
While the socialist collectivisation, typical for CEE countries, is a crucial factor across the region, the specific outcomes differ: in some contexts, nationalization and restitution resulted in fragmented land ownership, whereas in other places it created space for communally accessible lands. Relatively wide access to land in both urban (e.g. allotment gardens) and rural (e.g. forests, pastures) areas is one of the region’s shared features. Specific vocabulary (where the terms “communal” and “commons” as well as “cooperative” carry often negative historical connotations) and a certain prevalence of informal arrangements over formalized ones (e.g. access to commons is not always anchored in legal frameworks but instead a matter of social norms).
As a rule, the notion of „commons“ is not directly regulated in the national legal frameworks. Open access to forests is provided for within the whole region, with some nuances depending on the country. The traditions and current practices still provide for a few types of commons in this region: forest and foraging, pastures and meadows, allotment gardens, and traditional land commons.
Using forests as commons for walking and collecting both food and non-food products is a wide-spread practice in CEE countries. The common use of pastures and meadows, typically in state or municipal ownership, is regulated in Bulgaria and Romania only. Allotment gardens are one of the typical forms of commons that can be found in urban settlements across Eastern Europe.
4. Unveiling the “Invisible Reality” of the French Land Commons
University of Lausanne, France
At the end of 2022 the French Agency for Ecological Transition (ADEME), held a webinar on promoting French commons. Fully expecting to see examples from the rich variety of French land commons, we were quickly disappointed when a talk summarising commons with the use of Ostrom, Hardin and enclosures in the UK, gave examples of traditional commons from Africa. What followed, was the presentation of commons projects funded by ADEME in 2021, none of which concerned existing French land commons.
Unwittingly, this webinar is a mirror of the commons landscape in France. While the state, like many other states, has turned to commons to help provide solutions to the multiple complex crises that it realises it cannot resolve itself, it has done so by promoting different material and immaterial commons while ignoring the thousands of land commons that already exist, some of which are hundreds of years old. Furthermore, on the one hand, the state is creating laws to help new commons while on the other it proposes laws to abolish some of these existing, but invisible, land commons, without understanding their values. These invisible land commons have been persecuted since the French revolution and are still being enclosed by the state, in fact there are examples of new commons being create by enclosing old commons.
We propose a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the projects funded by ADEME and other French donors oriented towards the commons. We aim to shed light on the invisibility of these ancient commons, and how the donor landscape misrecognises the very land commons in France that can help resolve critical societal and environmental issues.
5. A kaleidoscope of Mediterranean commons: Long-standing traditions and recent trends in diverse legal-institutional contexts
1Planning and Development Research Unit, Department of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering Science, KU Leuven, Belgium, 2CEF, Centro de Estudos Florestais, Instituto Superior de Agronomia, Universidade de Lisboa, Tapada da Ajuda, Lisboa, Portugal, 3Faculty of Pure & Applied Sciences, Environmental Conservation & Management Programme, Open University of Cyprus, Cyprus, 4Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy, 5Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Spain, 6CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, InBIO Laboratório Associado, BIOPOLIS, Universidade do Porto, Portugal, 7Department of Conflict and Development Studies, Ghent University, Belgium, 8Dept. of Agricultural Sciences, Biotechnology and Food Science, Cyprus University of Technology Cyprus, 9Public University of Navarre, Spain
The Mediterranean region hosts a variety of commons ranging from historically established institutions rooting back to the 13th century to contemporary practices, in the context of which, common rights are informally exercised on land assets. Adding to EU statistics that constitute a first attempt to structure an aggregate database of common lands in Europe, this paper aims to uncover the patterns of commons that are ‘behind the numbers’, and further include several cases that are neglected or difficult to incorporate in quantitative surveys. Therefore, a historical overview of land policies and key legislative frameworks that shaped commons’ survival, recognition and development are highlighted, while we shed light on the dominant types of resources and land uses that are recorded on Mediterranean common lands. Our analysis reveals that although historical land reforms (such as Sesmarias and Ordinance Afonsina in Portugal, or desamortización in Spain), land privatization waves and dictatorial policies all managed to generate a rather polarized private-public property system, long-standing traditions of communities that collectively manage land and resources are recorded across the region, especially in Italy, and the northern parts of Spain and Portugal. Greece and Cyprus are significantly differentiated due to the Ottoman rule that characterized the countries’ land administration system, resulting in the current absence of legally defined commons. Quantitative and qualitative data on historical and contemporary commons will help us provide an enriched overview, and expand the categories of common lands that EU statistics take into consideration.
Panel 1.3. B
1. Persistence continued: Alpine commons between continuity and transformation
1University of Padova, Italy, 2University of Vienna, Austria, 3Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Art, Slovenia, 4University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, Austria, 5University of Bern, Switzerland, 6Eurac Research, Italy
Across Europe’s Alpine region, rural commons have a strong and continued tradition – dating back as far as the early Middle Ages and having fared through the many fundamental socio-political and economic changes that have evolved since then. The Alpine areas of Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland share substantial common lands, mainly forests, water, and mountain pastures. The latter are used for transhumance, well adapted to the topography. Today these commons go by many names and are formalized in a plethora of ways, varying not only between countries but from region to region, even valley to valley. In that they conceptually challenge a simple distinction but interrelatedness between private, state, and common property. Their institutional diversity speaks to the contingencies of regional conflicts of interest, pressure for enclosure or respectively commoners’ resistance.
Although the Alps’ contemporary commons are recognized in national legislations, many commoners’ organisations nonetheless struggle to maintain their economic viability in the context of agrarian change and land-use conflicts with actors from tourism, nature conservation, hunting, or energy production. In the face of this trend, our contribution synthesizes knowledge from researchers across the region to shed light on the value of alpine commons (and commoners’ work) for biodiversity and landscape maintenance, of locally adapted and sustainable animal husbandry, and the wealth of self-governance practices. These are reservoirs of ecological and social resilience that should be recognized and supported, in order to create a fair playing field for mountain farmers competing with agroindustry in the context of global change.
2. Food commons in the Dinaric region
1Bournemouth University, United Kingdom, 2University of Zagreb, Croatia, 3Laboratoire de Géographie de l’Environnement (GEODE), UMR 5602 CNRS – Université Toulouse 2, France, 4Departament d’Antropologia social i cultural (AHCISP), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, 5Laboratoire Population-Environnement-Développement (USAGES), UMR 151 IRD, Aix-Marseille Université, France, 6Faculty of Agriculture, University of Belgrade, Serbia, 7CIRAD, France, 8International Association for the Development of Agro-Ecology, France, 9AgroParisTech, France
The aim of the research is to present general historical and legislative trends on commons in four South East European countries strongly marked by the presence of the Dinaric alps: Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania. This entire area is characterised by a generally late industrialisation in comparison to western European countries, as well as a strong socialist legacy. Throughout the socialist period, parts of forest lands and pasturelands, mostly in less accessible mountain areas, remained under a de facto collective management, even if they all were under socialist policy influence. After the collapse of communism and socialism, privatisation ensued rapidly, and practically all communal forms of ownership (mostly previous to communism/socialism) were abolished. The agricultural land was either owned by private or legal entities (e.g. companies, etc.), or by the state, and there was practically no legal recognition of commons. The only exception regarding the legal framework are Croatia and Serbia that recognize some of their de facto existing commons.
Mountain pastures are the dominant resource concerning commons in this region, and have demonstrated strong resilience during the social, political and economic changes of the 20th century, showing probably the strongest persistence in Albania. Where commons exist, they are an important source of income for local communities, quality food for these and for the broader society, and an essential element of traditional landscape and cultural heritage, as well as biodiversity reservoirs. Nevertheless, they are threatened by depopulation processes, secondary succession and a general lack of legal framework or political will.