Paulina Cabrera Pereira is a Chilean activist and researcher of democracy, participation and right to the city. Now based in Barcelona, she collaborates with Barcelona en Comú and participated in the Mapping project of the European Municipalist Network.

Between October 2020 and June 2021, the European Municipalist Network (EMN) conducted a mapping of municipalist actors in Europe. The aim of this project was to identify electoral platforms, social organisations and translocal groups that share the four criteria defined by the EMN Mapping working group: a) linked to the territory at the local scale; b) based on the collaboration and aggregation of different actors; c) aiming to transform existing institutional structures and d) interested in taking part in an international network. The result of this mapping exercise has been transferred into an online map – with a database visualisation on the platform – and a graphic representation of the ‘Municipalist Ecosystem’ drawn by architect and draughtswoman Maria Garcia. In this text, we analyse the geographical distribution and nature of the practices included in these two representations.


The mapping exercise resulted in the identification of 54 actors across Europe. The territorial distribution of the actors present on the map shows a clear predominance of municipalism in Southern Europe and almost a total absence in Central and Western Europe. The region of ex-Yugoslavia constitutes a second node with seven organisations. The results of the mapping also highlight the predominantly urban character of municipalist organisations: the vast majority is concentrated in municipalities with 50,000 inhabitants or more, showing the potential of municipalism to confront the neoliberal urban governance model in contemporary cities. On the map, there are four cities with a population of more than a million: Barcelona, with three actors – one institutional and two social – including the platform Barcelona en Comú that has held the city’s mayoralty since 2015; in Budapest we identified a social organisation, the School of Public Life, involved in the electoral process that changed the city government in 2019; Warsaw, with the electoral platform Miasto Jest Nasze (The City Is Ours) in the opposition; and Vienna, where the municipalist-inspired party LINKS did not manage to obtain representation in the city council.

This general trend where municipalist actors concentrate in densely populated urban areas has some regional correlations. In the Nordic countries, for example, it corresponds to a concentration of progressive actors on this kind of scale, while right-wing populism and nationalism are more present in smaller cities. At the same time, even if few Nordic organisations have incorporated municipalism in their discourse or self-defined as such, there are urban movements working on issues that can be connected to municipalism. Especially in Sweden and Finland, there are municipalities collaborating outside their traditional political structures and networks working on issues close to municipalism, such as digital rights or the Doughnut economy (see the report on Nordic countries). Also, in the region of ex-Yugoslavia, municipalist organisations and proto-movements are more present in the capitals – Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sarajevo and Skopje – and bigger cities such as Dubrovnik and Novi Sad.

On the other hand, in Italy and France, there are experiences in villages, such as Bauladu in Sardinia with 689 inhabitants or Saint-Senoux in Nouvelle-Aquitaine with 1,842 inhabitants; or small towns such as Saint Médard en Jalles, in France, with 30,547 inhabitants, all governed by municipalist actors. In France, the organisation Fréquence Commun has developed its own online map that reflects the municipalist wave emerging in France in the 2020 elections. Overall, of the nine actors in areas with a population of less than 50,000, almost half belong to towns of less than 10,000 inhabitants. They are all in government and three of them hold the mayoralty, with no social organisations. Although this type of experience is not adequately represented in municipalist theorising, it is particularly powerful in the face of current challenges, especially with regard to the climate crisis, food sovereignty and the interdependence between territories.

Southern Europe

Italy and Spain with fourteen actors each, as well as France with nine, concentrate most of the organisations identified in the mapping process, with very different circumstances at the level of local administration. France is a highly centralised country where, nevertheless, holding the mayoralty has high political prestige. In the Italian context, there have been various regulatory interventions aimed at giving a more important role to the local institutions. Spain has a semi-federal system with some autonomy at the regional level, where the municipal level receives the least resources, although it holds particular competences of its own.

In France, the local elections in 2020 were an opportunity to seize on the issues exposed by movements such as Nuit Debout, the Yellow Vests, the ZAD (Zone to Defend) in Notre-Dame-des-Landes or the student mobilisations against climate change. The result was the unexpected emergence of 600 self-organised ‘participatory candidate lists’, of which over a hundred got institutional representation, mainly in rural areas. They share many characteristics of the municipalist lists: organised independently of any political party, their leadership was 40 percent women (against the usual 21 percent). Some of them had been prepared for years, while others appeared almost overnight. However, the narrative of municipalism only permeated in urban areas and remained unknown to the general public and – maybe more importantly – to the local councillors, who articulate their demands around horizontal and democratic decision-making, without explicitly addressing any structural and institutional change. However, following the regional and departmental elections in 2021 and the debates around the 2022 national elections, there is a rise in charismatic figures, traditional parties and the possibility of a right-wing president, which – combined with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic – can create an anti-democratisation wave. To be able to move away from the current top-down and centralised policies and expand the political imagination as well as institutional transformations already taking place in the most active ‘participatory communes’, the movement needs to articulate political actors and actions beyond the local level.

In Italy, municipalism emerged as a reaction to the austerity measures implemented after the 2008 crisis and their negative impacts on public services as well as the well-being of citizens, particularly the most vulnerable. Since 2010, municipalism has started to take hold around a range of social actors that produced mobilisations to resist austerity and defend the commons from privatisation attempts. In the electoral arena, there are different actors – political platforms, civic lists and new party formations – aiming to put the demand for radical democracy raised in the last years on the political agenda. At the same time, especially in small towns, the municipalist hypothesis provides a place of reference for politically orphaned actors. At the same time, it offers a re-elaboration of a political narrative and practice based on horizontality, collaboration and emancipation that have not found a common horizon in recent years. In a national and local situation marked by a deep political fragmentation, Naples is probably the most advanced municipalist experience, with two main social actors supporting, challenging and collaborating with the local government since 2011.

Last but not least, is in Spain where the institutional assault of the ‘municipalist wager’ – as defined by the Observatorio Metropolitano – took place most prolifically. In 2015, hundreds of municipalist platforms participated in the elections. They won or formed part of the government of four out of five biggest cities in the country, and dozens of other municipalities, from regional capitals to small villages. However, six years later, only Barcelona and Valencia are governed – even if in coalition – by municipalist confluences or similar formations. Even if there has been an emergence mobilisation through the feminist movement and the new social syndicalism – precarious workers, tenants’ unions or cleaning and care workers – there is a widespread notion that the cycle of change triggered by the occupation of the squares in 2011 is over. In this context, municipalism has the opportunity to reclaim the politics of respect and the territorial balance to articulate a vision of these intertwined realities around a set of economic, logistic, social, political and even cultural and ideological relations.

Central Europe

The map shows a clear void in Central Europe: there are no actors in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, or Central Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Moldova, Bulgaria or Romania). The only exceptions are Poland with two actors and Hungary with one actor.

In German-speaking countries, the concept of municipalism is not very well developed. It has not reached many activists, and there are no prospects of creating electoral platforms to participate and compete in elections any time soon. However, the concept is not unknown in the region: the LINKS party in Vienna stands close to municipalist values; different networks and spaces have discussed the concept; and some networks explicitly identify with the municipalist hypothesis. However, the discourse is mainly driven by academia, think tanks, and single actors who identify with the vision and aim to push the concept forward. In this apparent void, the municipalist political hypothesis seems to be taking grip in groups working on housing rights and anti-gentrification movements in the capital cities of the German-speaking countries – following the usual trend – especially in Berlin.

The situation in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is very different. Most of the countries in the region have a history of bottom-up politics challenging central state power, as well as diverse and dynamic social movements – such as the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Solidarity movement in Poland, or the multi-ethnic workers’ movement in the former Russian Empire. This rich tradition, marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, is now considered a lost legacy, and its values distorted and obscured. At the same time, the collapse of the socialist states produced a rise in the scope of local politics for systemic change: Poland and other countries implemented changes in the governance of regions. These changes produced an idea of ‘local democracy’, which nonetheless has been hijacked by neoliberalism. In general, left-wing values and political issues are still under the hegemony of conservative forces, and urban movements have adopted a ‘no-labels’ approach in the hope to avoid polarisation. Under this umbrella, issues concerning public space, democratic governance or ecological challenges can steer local communities towards a common good and challenge the centralised government. 

Nordic Countries

The four countries following the so-called ‘Nordic model’ of social welfare – Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden,  – have distinct characteristics but they also share similar levels of social protection, diversity in the political representation and presence of women in political positions, for example. With more than 80% of their population living in urban areas, and cities and towns usually hold more progressive movements, municipalism is represented with two organisations in the map. Regardless of the fact that few Nordic organisations have incorporated municipalism in their discourse – or self-defined as such – there are urban movements working on issues that can be connected to municipalism, specially on issues connected to climate crisis, and struggles against fascism that advocate for LGBTQ+, feminism and migrants rights. Especially in Sweden and Finland, there are municipalities collaborating outside their traditional political structures and networks working on issues close to municipalism, such as urban commons, citizen participation or the Doughnut economy – a theory linked to municipalism, specially in the call for transformative and feminist politics.

Southeast Europe

In the countries of former Yugoslavia, the two main municipalist projects are Ne Davimo Beograd in Serbia, which emerged from mobilisations against a large urban development project on the Danube – Belgrade Waterfront – and the successful case of Zagreb Je Nas, which went from having only a few municipal and district councillors in 2017 to winning the mayoralty of the city in 2021.

Although the levels of bottom-up participation in the region are not very high at the moment, Yugoslavia had in place a system of self-governance through a practice of workers’ management and the existence of collective ownership. After its break-up in 1990, the new countries went through similar processes. The chaos produced by armed conflicts and the rise of nationalist parties was used to cover brutal privatisation, corruption and authoritarianism. In Croatia, for decades, the attempts of implementing local democracy were led by the social democrats. At the same time, the parties in power used the 8,000 locally elected positions as a reward for faithful service. After strong waves of protest against privatisation of public space, social movements in Zagreb successfully connected the demand of the “right to the city” with an electoral proposal. Zagreb Je Nas got into the city and district councils in 2017 and in 2021 it won the mayoralty, giving hope to similar proposals in Croatia, Serbia and hopefully the whole region.


The UK is a highly centralised and increasingly draconian state, built through colonialism, inequality, white supremacy, patriarchy and other systems of power and prejudice. At the same time, it has a long tradition of revolt and resistance and was a pioneer in creating public services and welfare. It also has an ecosystem of social movements, some of which operate in proto-municipalist ways. Housing movements and renters’ unions such as London Renters’ Union or Acorn across the country, Cooperation Town co-operatives supporting food sovereignty, together with neighbourhood movements for local democracy such as Beacon in Liverpool and Citizens’ Assembly of South Tyneside form an ecosystem of ground-up, intersectional and internationalist strategies. In the electoral arena, even if interest in local politics is very low – due partly to the lack of power and funding found in that scale and the predominance of the two-party system, there has been a rise in recent years of the number of independent councillors. In the Southwest of England the ‘Flatpack Democracy’ project has promoted independent candidacies in Frome, Buckfastleigh and Torridge, for example. Also Community Wealth Building, which is a more institutional approach to municipal socialism championed by the Labour-run Preston Council, challenges the idea that local authorities cannot create change. In the context of violent neoliberalism and Brexit, Britain provides potentially fertile ground for municipalist movements – however emerging – to develop and challenge the country’s multiple crises, many of them intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic. This opportunity can grow from the organisations that either identify as municipalist, do research and advocate for municipalism, share municipalist traits and policies, or challenge neoliberal and archaic ways of doing politics in their territories.


This first phase of the mapping project has produced a greater awareness of the municipalist hypothesis by electoral platforms and organisations. We have also identified the need to strengthen what we have called “social municipalism” through practical outreach, based on the analysis of the nature of the actors: two thirds of actors are either involved in electoral processes or aspire to be, whereas one third are social organisations of different types: explicitly municipalist, sharing municipalist values or involved in trans-local actions.

in the map, there are thirteen organisations holding power in local government. All of them are in France (Mairie Saint Senoux, Saint Médard en Jalles DEMAIN, Poitiers Collectif and Grenoble en Commun, which holds the mayoralty), Italy (Bauladu Sèberat and Rinascita per Cinquefrondi hold the mayoralty, while Andria Bene in Comune and Coalizione Civica Padova are part of coalitions); or Spain (Barcelona en Comú has the mayoralty and Qué Hervás Quieres, Comú de Lleida and MÉS-Estimam Palma are in coalitions), with one case in Croatia (Zagreb je Nas, with the mayoralty). The same number are the opposition (Srđ je grad and Budimo grad in Croatia; Nous Sommes Montpellier in France; Una Città in Comune and Buongiorno Livorno in Italy; Miasto Jest Nasze in Warsaw, Poland; Levica in Ljubljana, Slovenia; Vila-seca en Comú, Ganemos Palencia, Compostela Aberta, Ganemos Jerez, Marea Atlántica and Zaragoza en Común in Spain).  Another ten are not part of the council, either because they have not had electoral success or they have not yet tried (LINKS In Austria, Association pour le Municipalisme and l’Ecocitoyenneté et la Liberté – AMEL, Brest La Liste Citoyenne and Nantes en commun in France; Reggio Emilia in Comune, Reggio Bene Comune and Cambiamo Messina dal Basso in Italy; and Ne davimo Beograd in Serbia). 

On the other hand, among the one third of social organisations that do not have an electoral purpose, we identified four types of activities: a) organisations that build municipalism from the social arena explicitly, without seeking to stand for election (Atelier Populaire d’Urbanisme, Grenoble, France; Allt åt alla Malmö, Sweden; Umundu Lx in Lisbon, Portugal, Lido Pola, Zero81 and L’asilo, all three in Naples, Italy) b) organisations adhering to municipalist values that do not recognise themselves as explicitly  municipalist but share its values, including the need to contest institutions (Tamera in Alentejo, Portugal; Lokalni odgovor in Valjevo, Serbia; La Casa Invisible, Málaga, Spain; Genova Che Osa, Genoa, Italy; Observatori DESC in Barcelona; and the School of Public Life in Budapest, Hungary) c) organisations that network with local actors (Demokratisk Omställning in Sweden; Kongres Ruchów Miejskich – Congress of Urban Movements in Poland; and Rede para o Decrescimento in Portugal, and  SANE – Solidarity Against Neoliberal Extremism, Glasgowl) and d) and two translocal think-and-do tanks, La Hidra Cooperativa based in Spain that seeks to reinforce municipalist practises, and Commonspolis that seeks to connect with municipalist and urban commons experiences in France. 

As we have noted, there is a clear difference in the concentration of projects on the European map. Municipalist actors come mainly from Southern Europe, a region characterised by a Mediterranean welfare regime where the family – rather than the state – plays the main role in supporting social reproduction. This lack of public services and infrastructure produces a precariousness that makes social articulation more urgent and necessary, making municipalism an opportunity to achieve and secure citizens’ rights. In this light, any future strategy to strengthen the municipalist ecosystem will have to think of place-based actions following the configuration of each region and its respective welfare regime. At the same time, the often romanticised welfare state and Nordic model faces its own social, economic and ecological crises, with a shift towards neoliberalism and inequality in Sweden, or a wealth depending on oil revenues in the case of Norway.

There are also differences in the perspective and potential of municipalist movements. While proto-municipalist urban movements can not have a ‘label’ in CEE, it might provide an opportunity to differentiate themselves from social democrats in the Nordic countries and the UK. In the experience of the ex-Yugoslavia, neoliberal actors also have distanced themselves from any label, claiming to be there “for the people, not for the ideology”. And while it might be easy to find common ground with some of them – for example on issues such as democratic decision-making or environmental crisis – it is necessary to differentiate those aiming for comprehensive structural change beyond progressive policies and programmatic choices, from those who are simply identifying an electoral niche. 


This mapping exercise has shown that being included within the municipalist framework was much less attractive to societal actors than to electoral actors –  even if many of the organisations that responded to the questionnaire had participated in a Fearless Cities meeting or were engaged in promoting municipalist principles and practices. This reluctance could be related to the fact that political action is locally centred, or to the fact that they have less resources than those in institutions. We know that translocal connections demand efforts and human resources that are not always available or seen as urgent or necessary. Another deterrent aspect is the difficulty of translation, not only of concepts but also of texts, conversations, etc. Moreover, when municipalist practices are too focused on the institutional realm, they tend to distance themselves from moments and places where social processes occur. 

In this sense, it is worth proposing two complementary strategic lines for developing and strengthening the municipalist ecosystem on the continent. On the one hand, disseminating content and practical experiences in each of the dimensions of municipalist action can support local actors, at the same time providing a local perspective for social organisations with less situated practices. On the other hand, there is an opportunity to develop the “social municipalism” hypothesis involving new actors: feminist, anti-racist and environmentalist actors who are present both locally and translocally, in order to allow the creation of “here and now” politics in these areas.