CIPRA representatives:

Personal tools

  Search filter  


Referendum in the Puster Valley and restoration of a protection forest in Hinterstein - We'll have our say! The people living in the Alps are no longer prepared to look on; they want to be involved.

Mar 20, 2007 / Swantje Strieder
In recent years co-operative planning processes have gained in importance as a result of targets set by the EU or national governments. Participation in the sense of greater co-determination and co-decision is also being called for at grassroots level, by citizens, land owners and pressure groups.
Image caption:
Allen neuen Entscheidungsformen gemein sind die Mitsprache der BürgerInnen und Zusammenarbeit mit Planern und Umsetzerinnen. © Comitato referendum consultivo Val Pusteria
Within a short space of time the Alpine states find themselves going through a period of upheaval in their political and economic environment. The state is becoming leaner, public subsidies are shrinking, and in disadvantaged regions jobs are being lost. With the trend towards civil society inhabitants are faced increasingly with the task of understanding political processes and involving themselves as effectively as possible. The search for new forms of decision-making is a major challenge, specifically because local politicians, decision-makers and planners often regard the involvement of the general public as interference in matters which they consider to be almost something of a birth right.

What's needed is qualified co-determination
Many international agreements already provide for political co-determination; the Preamble to the Alpine Convention for instance calls upon the population to help shape the social, cultural and economic development of the Alps. But at the local level there are still antiquated structures in place which make it more difficult for those concerned to play an active part. Nonetheless the number of citizens who are no longer prepared to take a back seat is growing. People want to have their say and be involved in decisions, whether as home or land owners, farmers, rail users or motorists, conservationists, or even as members of a bakers' guild or a shooting club.

CIPRA supports this trend and calls for co-operative planning and development approaches to be adopted more extensively in future projects. This presupposes that the agents involved know how these approaches work. They must be educated accordingly, whether they work for municipalities, businesses or NGOs. From municipalities and regions in particular CIPRA expects that forces acting on behalf of the protection of the Alps and sustainable development become more closely involved in the political decision-making process, to which the criteria of good governance must apply as a matter of principle: democratic legitimacy, effectiveness, transparency, subsidiarity and participation.

Experts involved in the Future in the Alps study commissioned by CIPRA addressed the following issues to find out what new decision-making processes might look like:

o What are the main conflicts and problems involved in decision making in the Alps?
o How are decisions taken? How might the processes be improved?
o What outline conditions are needed for planning processes to take account of sustainable development?
o How can those involved have a better say?
o How can the experience gained from showcase projects be implemented?

The objective was to use the showcases to highlight new ways of decision making in the five main areas of Regional Value Added, Governance Capacity, Protected Areas, Mobility and Political Strategies. The solution strategies for the following key issues depend not least on successful, generally accepted decision-making.

Setting up and running regional value-added chains as successful co-operation ventures
In Alpine countries the gap between affluent and less favoured regions is widening all the time. Until now regional equalisation payments were able to mitigate the divide. But at a time when the political landscape is being redrawn and subsidies for social affairs and agriculture are threatening to dry up other approaches are needed. Governments tend to channel their investments into metropolitan areas; this means that remote, sparsely population areas are left empty-handed. That's why it is so important for disadvantaged regions in particular to set up sustainable value-added chains, perhaps even to introduce quality seals and combine the sale of local specialities with green tourism.
The process of reform throughout Europe is adding to the uncertainty of those concerned. As small regional suppliers they are confronted with a steadily rising number of international adversaries. When exporting their products they are forced to compete with powerful bulk buyers such as Carrefour, Spar, Lidl, Aldi, Migros and Coop. Brand labels can help towards the success of such exports. But often certification becomes an obstacle for small suppliers because of the considerable expenditure involved. In Italy for instance there are two brand labels competing with each other: DOC (denominazione d'origine controllata) and IGP (indicazione geografica protetta); this causes confusion. Similarly there's more to cheese than just cheese: it is a branded product whose production has to take account of and satisfy all kinds of requirements. In tourism, local providers often find themselves under pressure from big tour operators to lower costs and standardised the services they offer. For the experts working on the CIPRA study, this is part of a general trend. Anyone wanting to sell their products and services successfully must now take more factors into account than ever before. To make the right decisions, they must pay much more heed to economic, political and regulatory conditions at the national, and sometimes even at the international level. Regional players must learn to master this growing complexity of the decision-making process. The experts believe that support programmes should therefore boost the exchange of information between players. They should promote networks and co-operation ventures, and they should improve the negotiating skills of the regional players.

Complement state-run services with inhabitants' own initiative and preserve and strengthen the identity of people living in the Alps
As far as governance capacity is concerned, there is no mistaking the signs of disintegration in certain sections of society. The social cohesion of people living in the Alps is being put at risk by worldwide trends such as globalisation, economic concentration, fragmentation and the ageing of society, and not least by difficult topographical conditions. Public subsidies are drying up; public services such as schools, kindergartens, post office and local transport are being discontinued or need to be reorganised at the local level at the people's own responsibility. Add to this the exodus of qualified young people, which often goes hand in hand with the break-up of traditional family ties.
The team of experts concludes that in future governance capacity can only be improved through greater co-operation between the local population and incomers, between old and young, and by embracing new models of decision-making.

Establish protected areas according to efficient concepts of nature conservation and management and with the involvement of all those concerned
Better forms of co-operation with local inhabitants must be found also with regard to the establishment and management of new protected areas, i.e. planning, administration and monitoring. First of course the land use and ownership circumstances on site need to be clarified. If a positive long-term effect is to be achieved, conflicts in and around the protected areas must be settled professionally. Conflicts of competence regularly flame up in this area between the different political levels as do blatant errors in park management. There are also conflicts of interest between farmers and foresters, hunters and environmentalists, who usually see new parks only from an ecological viewpoint and not as an asset for sustainable regional development.

Contribution of new forms of decision-making towards sustainable transport planning
New forms of decision making cannot be rated too highly in the discussion surrounding mobility, too. There are two main trends in the Alpine regions and they are moving in opposite directions. First, local public transport is being trimmed back more and more, which penalises the older generation, women and young people who do not have their own car. Secondly, the intense commuter and leisure traffic is proving highly detrimental to the environment, with local residents suffering from the noise and exhaust pollution. In the opinion of the authors of the CIPRA study there is a lack here of both political will and instruments for promoting "soft" forms of mobility. There are also far too few co-operation platforms on which a fair balance between those involved might be struck.

Preparing and implementing political strategies
When political strategies and concepts are drawn up, it has been shown that involving different pressure and lobby groups in the preparations helps to ensure that programmes are better adapted to the needs of the target groups. This applies both to the area of research and to local, regional and national concepts. Examples include local development concepts for which the local population is involved in the drafting process, open-space conferences for the formulation of objectives, or the EU's LEADER programme, which is drawn up and implemented using regional bottom-up processes.

Checklist for successful decision-making
While there is no "ideal method" for the decision-making process, there are generally applicable principles such as transparency, trustworthiness, respect for opposite views, and the willingness to seek compromise.
Steps which should be taken into account when managing decision-making processes include:

1) Clarifying the starting point: At an early stage those responsible for the process should examine the project or the intention, its prior history, the objectives and contents, the timetable, the costs and the possible impacts.
2) Assessing the situation: Those responsible for the process should analyse the development trends and the driving forces behind the scenes, and assess the positions and interests of the individual participants as well as any conflicts and alliances.
3) Considering possibilities for action: This is all about considering the following: What happens if everything continues as it was? What new options present themselves? How do we recognise and seize new opportunities?
4) Preparing the negotiation process: Once the possibilities for action have been clarified, it is a matter of fine-tuning the process: specifying the subject of the negotiation (what exactly are we discussing; what are we not discussing?), the objectives, the procedure (what happens when?), the structures (who is in charge of what?) and the outline conditions (process management, time, money, how binding are the results).
5) Choosing the appropriate methods: The right method in each case depends on several parameters: the object of negotiation, the scope of negotiation, the conflict intensity, the number of participants, the time and the money.
6) Negotiating and making decisions: Different phases of the negotiation, from getting to know those involved, exchanging information, agreeing the rules of the game, stating positions, defining the areas of conflict, clarifying responsibilities to the conclusion, in which the results, control function and evaluation are determined.
7) Implementing the results: Actually carrying out the project can be difficult or even fail. This is often due to agreements not being sufficiently precise.
8) Verifying the implementation: A small group made up of different agents should monitor the way in which the agreements are implemented. This creates trust and helps to show up any sources of error.
9) PR work plays an important role in new forms of decision making. It motivates those concerned and creates a basis of trust both inwardly and outwardly. Special forms of PR work such as open days, joint excursions, special introduction courses for children and migrants, or artistic events can be very valuable contributions.

1. South Tyrol, Italy
Prize winner of CIPRA's Future in the Alps competition, 2005

"I've got something to say" - Referendum on traffic in the Puster Valley
In 2000, 300 people of South Tyrol, of no party political affiliation, representing a cross-section of all ethnic groups, languages and social strata, founded the Initiative for More Democracy. Their objective was to get citizens to become more directly involved in drawing up legislation, e.g. by referendum. An "observatory" took a closer look at politicians and the established political process. A Democracy Workshop drew up bills of its own making and developed ideas and projects to motivate more people - using PR work and visits to schools - to become politically involved. The project aimed to establish a culture of equal rights, and boost the awareness of the value of direct political involvement.

For instance on the issue of traffic. Although the Brenner Autobahn and its HGV traffic is a huge burden on the people living in the Eisack Valley, the government of South Tyrol had been planning additional transit routes. The Initiative for More Democracy solicited support from various associations to bring about a self-administered referendum on transport policy. In Italy referenda at the local level are uncommon. 200 volunteers collected 2,900 signatures, the first step towards a referendum. And while there was plenty of resistance from local politicians, the cheerful style of the survey proved popular with local residents. On 20 March 2005 no fewer than 80% of the people who took part in the referendum spoke out in favour of prioritising rail and bus transport over private cars.

2. Allgäu (Germany)

Restoration of protection forests in Hinterstein
Hinterstein is an idyllic mountain village outside Bad Hindelang and lies nestled in a narrow high valley. It is surrounded by a high-lying forest on steep, 40 degree slopes. The forest has been badly affected by the bark beetle; it is diseased and thinned out. Without a strong mountain forest to protect it, Hinterstein is threatened by avalanches and rock falls. Since 1987 a total of one million euros has been spent on restoring it, with little success. The saplings failed to grow as chamois and deer nibbled away at the tender shoots. But in a project unique in its kind, forestry scientists at the Technical University Munich carried out a mediation process in which a joint agreement was concluded by all the parties concerned: hunters, forestry owners and proprietors of water bodies, local authority representatives and associations. While the hunters undertook to keep the afforestation zones free of red deer and chamois, the foresters agreed to provide the optimum fencing for the new plantations. The forest owners dispensed with any land clearance operations and ski tourists were routed around the areas at risk.
Initially the mediation proved tenuous and marked by the deep mistrust of the participants. But provided all those concerned observe the pact, there will soon be a new answer to the question posed in Eichendorff's song: Wer hat dich, du schöner Wald, aufgebaut so hoch da droben? [O mighty forest so high above, who put you there?] The answer being, we all did.
Filed under: players / networks