Italian lawyer, activist and professor Ugo Mattei special guest speaker at the ECF Princess Margriet Award Ceremony on March 18

Not the private sector, but the State is the worst enemy of the commons … We have to get over the public vs. private division… We need to get into the control room and introduce a new DNA.
— Ugo Mattei in an interview at the Economics and the Commons Conference (ECC), Berlin 2013

The ECF Princess Margriet Award ceremony in Brussels on March 18 will be joined by distinguished international guests and speaker with innovative and often controversial ideas about culture, politics, democracy, the commons and the way they would like to see tomorrow’s world take shape.

One of them, Italian lawyer and activist Ugo Mattei, took part in the occupation of the Teatro Valle in Rome and served as legal advisor to its Statute of the Fondazione Teatro Valle Bene Comune. After completing his education at the University of Turin’s Law School, the University of California’s Berkeley School of Law and LSE’s Faculté Internationale de Droit Comparé in Strasbourg and receiving a Fulbright Fellowship, Mattei embarked on a distinguished career in academia, returning to his alma maters in Turin and Strasbourg as a professor. His appointments as visiting scholar and professor, encompassing three continents, have taken him from Yale to Cambridge and from Montpellier to Macau. In 1994 Mattei became the first holder of the Fromm Chair in International and Comparative Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law. Since 1997, he has also occupied the Chair of Civil Law at the University of Turin, where he was born.

What makes Ugo Mattei so extraordinary is the fact that he combines an impressive body of academic publications with ground-breaking activism. His most recent book Beni Comuni. Un Manifesto, published in Italian by Editori Laterza, provides the theoretical basis for the current wave of resistance against neoliberalism in Italy. As for his activism, Mattei’s involvement with Teatro Valle Occupato is just one example of this. Commenting on the experience, he says:

“Once you are willing to break the law, occupy a space and defend it physically, you can create a commoning institution from scratch.”

A much more complex example of Mattei’s struggle for the commons is the campaign he masterminded against the privatisation of water in Italy.

“We had no common ground to start from. New bylaws needed to be written and we had to conquer more and more advanced positions … You need to get into the control room and introduce a new DNA.”

The campaign, which Mattei says was waged without either money or media coverage, culminated in a national referendum in which more than 27 million Italians endorsed the plans for the recognition of water as a common good.

Mattei is casting his net wide, to Europe and beyond. About this year’s European Parliament elections he says:

“We have to start discussing these issues at the European level, show that there are better ways to do things. We want a Europe of the people, not the banks.”

Watch the full video interview with Ugo Mattei at the ECC Conference in Berlin: 


Read excerpts from Mattei’s essay on the state, the market and the commons.

The Sixth ECF Princess Margriet Award laureates for 2014 are Teatro Valle Occupato from Rome and Teodor Celakoski from Zagreb. They will be presented with their awards in Brussels on the 18 March 2014.