European Commission building, Brussels. (Andrew Gustar / Flickr)
Realizing that the sharing phenomenon is changing how citizens live, the European Union has begun to address the sharing economy's regulatory challenges at the multi-national level.
In May 2015, the EU Committee of the Regions (CoR) appointed Benedetta Brighenti, deputy mayor of the municipality of Castelnuovo Rangone in Italy, as rapporteur for the opinion on "The Local And Regional Dimension of the Sharing Economy.” In addition to authoring the opinion for the CoR’s ECON committee, Brighenti has contributed to a number of international forums on sharing issues, including the Smart Countries and Cities Congress (SC3, September 2015), OuiShare Fest 2016 (May 2016), and a debate on regulating the sharing economy before the European Parliament (June 2016).
We recently talked to Brighenti about her experience drafting the opinion, and about the increased attention the European Commission and other institutions are giving the sharing economy.
This article continues a series produced by LabGov and Shareable highlighting public policy supporting sharing in cities and the urban commons. See previously-published interviews with Renato Galliano of Milan Sharing City and EU Urban Agenda representative Pedro Campos Ponce.
Vanessa Cantele and Monica Bernardi: When and how did you become rapporteur for the opinion on "The Local And Regional Dimension of the Sharing Economy”?
Benedetta Brighenti: Everything started a year ago when, in May 2015, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) decided that the sharing economy was a complex but necessary topic of discussion for European territories.
The PES Group suggested my name as rapporteur of an initiative opinion on the sharing economy, despite the fact that I had joined the CoR only a few months earlier and was not experienced in the process of drafting an opinion. They explained my nomination by saying that a young person would be more open toward the spread of a new social and economic paradigm. This approach was approved by other political groups and I was confirmed as rapporteur.
What was the initial attitude within the Committee of the Regions toward the sharing economy? What, if any, interest was expressed by other institutions at the European level?
The first approach of the CoR to the sharing economy was quite generalist. We soon understood that this phenomenon was producing structural modifications both in our citizens’ habits and in the social organizations in our territories. This, in turn, led us to acknowledge the changing nature of needs for and access to services.
These changes [had the potential to produce] both legal problems and market distortions. Municipalities are the first entities that must deal with these issues. For this reason it was fundamental for the CoR (an institution representing local and regional entities) to start and deepen the discussion.
Even though the other European institutions were initially reluctant to take a position on the sharing economy (because of the complicated nature of the topic and of the potential implications of an inaccurate statement), within a few months nine European Commission Directorates General had become involved.
What levers or incentives encouraged the CoR and other European institutions to take action on the sharing economy?
There are many reasons that make this issue essential and [relevant] to local realities. It is [crucial to keep track of] a phenomenon that could either improve quality of life and foster growth, or threaten local traditions, customs, social practices and small- and medium-size economic ventures. [The sharing economy also has the capacity to] transform the urban landscape and behavioral patterns that under an urban/local ecosystem point of view can be linked to quality of life in certain areas.
[The sharing economy is linked to the local community through: the principle of self-organization of local and regional authorities; the fact that [a] collaborative economy is in fact [a] local economy; the [extent to which] the trust that the sharing economy develops within a community becomes one of the main economic drivers in [that] community; and the fact that we need to work to enforce the social/economic aspects in question.
Talk us through the milestones in the development of the opinion.
On May 6, 2015, I was appointed rapporteur for the opinion. After a few weeks I selected my expert, Christian Iaione, an Italian expert on the sharing economy and commons and co-director of the LabGov project. A few days later I participated in the Agenzia di Ricerche e Legislazione (AREL) debate in Rome on the sharing economy.
In the middle of July, after some meetings with stakeholders and representatives of the European Commission, CoR’s ECON [Commission for Economic Policy] held a first exchange of views on the topic based on the working document. At the end of the month, together with Professor Iaione, we organized and held a series of hangouts with the most prominent experts [on the sharing economy] from around the world.
On July 2, 2015, I participated in the Smart Countries and Cities Congress (S3C) in Paris.
During the ECON meeting in Gelsenkirchen September 28, 2015, the draft of the opinion was discussed and adopted. In October I had the opportunity to discuss the sharing economy on many occasions and with different audiences, [from whom I gained additional] input and suggestions. In November Professor Iaione and I managed a seminar during Sharitaly, one of the most important events on the sharing economy in Europe.
Finally, on December 3, 2015, the opinion was adopted by the Plenary of the CoR with a large majority.
Say more about how you drafted the opinion. With whom did you collaborate?
The drafting process of the opinion "The Local And Regional Dimension of the Sharing Economy” was as transparent as possible. We wanted and needed to involve more people [with an interest in the sharing] sector. During the first draft we met stakeholders and representatives from European institutions and international experts on the sharing economy (including Sheila Foster, Nestor Davidson, Janelle Orsi, Ivana Pais, Marta Mainieri, Neal Gorenflo, David Bollier, Michel Bauwens, Simone Cicero, Albert Canigueral, Juliet Schor, April Rinne, and Marco Torregrossa).
Collaboration was our guideline, also, after the first approval [at ECON] in September 2015. We asked for suggestions and contributions from [citizens], experts, and other interested parties during the Sharitaly event in Milan in November 2015. During a [roundtable] with a motivated public and representatives of the Forum on Public Administration I received very precise and constructive recommendations. This was very helpful to understanding other perspectives not taken into account until that moment and to draft more complete amendments.
What difficulties did you encounter while drafting the opinion?
The most challenging difficulty that I faced was the inability to have a political discussion on the issue during the first months due to lack of knowledge. It has often been difficult to examine the matter in depth and explore all the finer points of the opinion.
Describe the initial reaction to the draft opinion.
The first reaction to the document was positive, although some members of [ECON] suggested I should have a brave attitude involving a more political approach to the issue. I attempted to explain that what we were setting up was a new political process and that I perceived our itinerary as an endurance run rather than a sprint. Since it was already clear at the time that this was a significant step ahead in the field of European collaborative policies, a concrete and equilibrated process was [necessary] in order to prevent anything from stopping it.
Are there any particular points made in the opinion that you’d like to highlight?
It should be highlighted that there is a potential risk from a political point of view. [The risk is] that this phenomenon will be examined and developed only from a commercial perspective, and that we would therefore lose the enormous potential of the commons—the social side of collaborative activities and the new political paradigm for the governance of territories.
What is the current status of the opinion?
The CoR’s members from local and regional entities were positively impressed by the contents of the opinion. "The Local And Regional Dimension of the Sharing Economy” is first European institutional document on the matter.
We received positive feedback from [those cities more experienced with] the sharing economy. Turin and Barcelona, and networks such as OuiShare, would like to [directly exchange their] impressions with us.
One of the most important objectives that we set when starting this experience was to build a bridge between local and regional [entities] and European governance and institutions.
What is next for the topic of the sharing economy at the European level?
As we have already observed, this issue will certainly develop with a lot of energy and will [play] an important role in the political scene. Since the issuance of the CoR opinion, important policy documents on the sharing economy have been drafted and published, and many more will be published in the near future.
In June the European Commission published a communication on a European agenda for the collaborative economy to provide guidance aimed at supporting consumers, businesses, and public authorities in engaging confidently in the collaborative economy. The interest in and priority of the matter is unequivocal and can no longer be put off.