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Point of view: Europe and its Alps

Erwin Rothgang, Vice-President CIPRA International (c) Martin Walser

The fundamental question facing the direct elections to the European Parliament in May 2019 is: hat is the outlook – in Europe and in the Alps – for democracy and “good governance”? Erwin Rothgang, Vice-President of CIPRA International, argues for new forms of co-operation.

The future of Europe depends upon the cohesion between countries and peoples remaining stronger than the tendencies towards fragmentation and discrimination. The upcoming European elections offer the opportunity to turn the Parliament into a true legislature and to practise good governance at all levels. Regionalism and a nation-based sense of homeland do not contradict this, but can rather be fostered. However the trend towards exploiting alienation and thus excluding others clouds our view of the whole: flows of money and goods have long been globalised, but not human rights. Consumerism and lifestyles in rich countries endanger the future of our planet.

So what about “good governance” in the Alps? The Alpine Convention states that: “with their outstanding unique and diverse natural habitat, culture and history, [the Alps] constitute an economic, cultural, recreational and living environment in the heart of Europe, shared by numerous peoples and countries”. Preserving this diversity and organising the sustainable development of “our” Alps is a truly European task. All interests are to be represented in this common project: those of locals and visitors, long-term residents and recent arrivals, haves and have-nots, old and young. Nature, which belongs to no-one and to everyone, needs a powerful voice in the planning and design processes and has to be represented by environmental associations backed by strong arguments.

It will not be easy to institute the good governance required for this task: there are at least four old-established and countless “new” languages in the Alps; some states and regions are richer and more powerful than others; wealth and income opportunities are unequally distributed. New forms of co-operation and initiatives are needed, such as the recently signed “Aachen Treaty” between Germany and France. Its aim is to strengthen cultural diversity, with regional and cross-border cooperation better organised to facilitate people’s daily lives. Border regions should also dispose of appropriate powers, targeted resources and accelerated procedures, while multilingualism is to be fostered and cross-border mobility made easier.

The Alpine countries and regions should take up such offers and thus make “good governance” a tangible asset. A vivid case study might be the Brenner transit axis: a cross-border negotiation process, representing all interests, could ensure that the traffic and transport demands of the Brenner route are compatible with the environmental aspects and quality of life of the valley areas concerned.