Community initiatives in Europe
A wide diversity and growing number of community-led initiatives (CLIs) can be found all across Europe, with documented histories in some cases of over 50 years. Initiatives associated with the Transition, Permaculture and Ecovillage movements, along with Community energy, Solidarity economy and various forms of community food initiative are found across the whole of Europe, though distribution of particular networks can be clustered and/or patchy. Despite significant recent research effort, the full numbers, nature, scope and impacts of CLIs in Europe are not yet documented or established.
Aims of Community-Led Initiatives
According to findings of the TESS research project on community-led initiatives (CLIs), CLIs in Europe tend to be created in order to advance environmental and/or social dimenions of sustainability on the environmental and social dimensions. In a survey of members of CLIs from six European countries (Finland, Germany, Italy, Romania, Scotland and Spain), more than ninety percent of respondents reported that the most important goal of community action for them was one of the following:
- Providing opportunities for social interaction
- Using natural resources more efficiently
- Combating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- Promoting more sustainable behaviour, life styles and social practices
Nature and Diversity of Community-led Initiatives in Europe
Many CLIs are connected with specific networks, and some of these networks have particular strengths in or focus upon specific domains are activities, it is very common for a single initiative to operate simultaneously in multiple domains of activity. Among 63 initiatives surveyed in TESS, nearly 50 per cent were active in the domain of food, 38 per cent in waste, 28 percent on transport and 27 per cent on energy.
Key networks of CLIs in Europe include the Transition movement, Ecovillages, Permaculture movement, Community energy, Solidarity economy, Degrowth, Community-supported agriculture (CSA) and Slow food. These networks have many historical and present-day associations, with overlap, intersection and collaboration all common. Many can be regarded as some form or another of commoning movement, where communities of co-users or other stakeholders self-organise to create and implement appropriate governance and management mechanisms. Many Transition initiatives and projects adopt methodologies from permaculture and solidarity economy, initiate community energy or CSA projects, and act as examples of degrowth in practice. Since 2014, ecovillage, permaculture and transition networks have formally collaborated at European level as the ECOLISE meta-network. These connections within and across networks promote the translocal mobilisation of social movements called for by, for example, researcher Flor Avelino as a strategy for collective nurturing and empowerment.
Regarding their legal status, the majority of the 63 CLIs studied within TESS were cooperatives, with different organisational forms evenly distributed among the six countries involved. Nearly a quarter of TESS case study initiatives had no formal legal organisation. Governance procedures vary in their degree of formality: some CLIs deploy structured decision-making process such as general assemblies and committees, some base decision-making on full participation and consensus.
Most TESS case study initiatives were initiated around 2010, in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Nearly a quarter had been in existence more than 14 years; another quarter were created between 2012 and 2016, suggesting that new initiatives are being created at accelerating rates. Some of the oldest known initiatives still in existence are Findhorn ecovillage in the UK, founded in 1962, and the Les Jardins de Cocagne, a CSA-like initiative in Switzerland that began in 1978.
Numbers of Community-led Initiatives in Europe
Assessing the number of CLIs in Europe is difficult and depends strongly on the sources and methods used. Even within a single network, national and global maps might indicate very different numbers of initiatives, and different mapping exercises come out with different numbers per network and country. Aggregation of data from maps curated by the permaculture, ecovillage and Transition movements indicates over 1000 documented initiatives in Europe . Rescoop records 250 Community energy initiatives in Europe , a survey of solidarity economy organisations reveals over two million in the EU, and another nearly 2800 Community Supported Agriculture and similar initiatives, showing the scale of these movements in Europe is already large.
Number of CLIs mapped on the ECOLISE website (including only initiatives mapped by the Transition, Permaculture and Ecovillage movements).
Reported numbers of CLIs are very low in many countries in Eastern Europe. However, this may reflect methodological and conceptual limitations rather than actual numbers, if such initiatives take different forms and adopt different labels and forms of networking from those familiar in the west.
- Celata, F., Hendrickson, C., 2016. Case study integration report (TESS Project Deliverable No. 4.1)
- Bollier, D., & S. Helfrich (eds.), 2012. The Wealth of the Commons. Amherst, MA: Levellers Press
- Avelino, F., 2018. Time to ignite the power of Translocal social movements. http://www.thebrokeronline.eu/Blogs/Inclusive-Economy-Europe/Time-to-ignite-the-power-of-translocal-social-movements. Accessed October 7th 2018.
- http://www.ecolise.eu/map-of-initiatives/. Accessed 21st June 2018
- https://www.rescoop.eu/. Accessed June 21st 2018.
- http://www.solidarityeconomy.eu. Accessed June 21st 2018
- http://www.ecolise.eu/map-of-initiatives/. Accessed June 21st 2018.