Why an EU Strategy for the Alpine Region?
The Alpine Region is among the most dynamic, innovative and competitive areas in Europe with unique geographical and natural features. More than 70 million people live and work in the Region. It is also an attractive destination for millions of tourists every year. However the Region faces several challenges, which require a joint response:
- Demographic trends characterised by ageing, low population density in the mountain areas and new migration models
- High vulnerability to climate change and its foreseeable effects on the environment, biodiversity and the living conditions of its inhabitants
- Challenge in managing and meeting energy demand
- A high degree of seasonality, especially in some touristic areas
- Significant disparities between the different areas in the Region, especially between mountainous areas and the Alpine foreland
But there are also opportunities on which the Strategy can build:
- The Alps are one of the most famous and most intensely used mountain regions of the world, a key destination for tourists
- The Alps are crossed or bordered by trade and transit routes of strategic importance
- Many of the regions in the Alps are among the most developed in the world with competitive, market-oriented and specialised economies, a high quality of life and strong innovation levels
- The Region is home to global key players and SMEs in the field of research and innovation, offering a strong potential for further development
- The Alps are the second largest biodiversity reservoir in Europe after the Mediterranean Sea
Better cooperation and coordination between the countries and regions concerned is needed to address shared challenges and better exploit opportunities. Therefore, the European Council of 19-20 December 2013 invited the Commission, in cooperation with the Member States and regions involved, to draw up an EU Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP) by mid-2015.
Which countries are involved?
The EUSALP concerns more than 70 million people living in the 48 regions of the 7 countries involved, of which 5 are EU Member States (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia) and 2 are non-EU countries (Liechtenstein and Switzerland). The proposed geographical area covered by the macro-regional strategy is particularly well suited for the sustainable development of the Alpine Region.
What are the main objectives?
As is the case for the other macro-regional strategies (the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR), the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) and the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR), the objective of this Strategy is to provide a coordinated response to issues for which joint action is necessary. This Strategy, therefore, will seek to unlock the potential of the Alpine Region, by encouraging participants to overcome barriers and think more strategically about the existing challenges and opportunities.
What topics does it cover?
More specifically, the Strategy will cover three policy areas, detailed in the Action Plan. These are:
- economic growth and innovation
- mobility and connectivity
- environment and energy
Moreover, since the existing cooperation frameworks in the Region are primarily sector-based or do not match the geographical scope of the Strategy, a cross-cutting policy area has also been identified to address governance, including institutional capacity.
Following the recommendations from the 2014 report concerning the added value of macro-regional strategies, and taking into account the outcomes of previous works in the Region oriented towards EUSALP, the Commission has identified the following objectives:
- fair access to job opportunities by building on the high competitiveness of the Region
- sustainable internal and external accessibility
- a more inclusive environmental framework and renewable and reliable energy solutions for the future
In addition, there will be a cross-cutting objective aiming to build:
- A sound macro-regional governance model for the Region, to improve cooperation and the coordination of action
All macro-regional stakeholders can benefit from the Strategy, including: local, regional and national administrations, universities, research clusters, SMEs, civil society organisations and associations, private partners, international investors, and of course, citizens.
How is it financed?
As the Strategy does not come with extra EU financing, the EUSALP will mobilise and bring together existing EU and national funding instruments.
In particular, relevant country-specific, cross-border and transnational programmes from the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) for 2014-2020 will provide significant financial resources and a
wide range of tools and technical options. The Alpine Space "Interreg" Programme will be an important instrument for the implementation of the EU Strategy for the Alpine Region in terms of alignment of priorities and funding. In addition, Interreg's Priority Axis 4 ('Well-Governed Alpine Space') is designed specifically to support EUSALP governance.
Other EU Funds and programmes will be used such as Horizon 2020, the COSME programme, the Connecting Europe Facility, and the LIFE programme. In addition, the European Fund for Strategic
Investments, the European Investment Bank and other international financial institutions will also contribute. Finally, national and regional budgetary resources will be mobilised, in particular in the non-EU countries covered by the Strategy, as they do not receive EU funding.
What about implementation?
Regarding its implementation, the Strategy will be based on the key principles as applied to other existing macro-regional strategies. There will be no new EU funds, no additional EU formal structures and no EU legislation. To be able to achieve this, it is vital to follow a coordinated approach and to promote synergies. The aim is to produce a clear added value based on jointly identified objectives.
Where is the added value?
The Commission will act as an independent facilitator and will ensure strategic coordination in areas where it can provide added value for the macro-region. This entails offering strategic support by identifying shortcomings that need to be addressed at the political level.
Involvement of the EU will also facilitate a cross-sector approach consistent with different EU policies.
It will highlight possible complementarities and synergies between policies and programmes currently carried out in the Region. It will help align and mobilise the wide range of funds and programmes available in the Region to support the achievement of the Strategy's goals.
Overall, leadership and ownership of the Strategy should come from the 48 regions of the seven countries involved themselves.
What was the preliminary work?
The Strategy was built on the input and preparatory work by the following stakeholders:
- The Bad Ragaz Decision and the Initiative Paper of the Conference of Alpine Regions of 29 June 2012
- The European Parliament resolution of 23 May 2013 on a macro-regional strategy for the Alps
- The Grenoble 'Political resolution towards a European Union Strategy for the Alpine Region' of 18 October 2013
- The work of the Steering Committee composed of representatives from States and Regions as well as observers from the Alpine Space Programme and the Alpine Convention;
- The outcomes of the extensive public consultation (July-October 2014) which resulted in close MEMO/15/5431 to 400 contributions from individuals, public authorities, international organisations, civil society organisations, private enterprises, academic institutions and other stakeholders
- The debates in the high-level Stakeholder Conference on the EUSALP and the Milan Declaration of the Alpine States and Regions (Milano, 1-2 December 2014)
- The Opinions adopted by the Committee of the Regions and by the European Economic and Social Committee on the EUSALP in December 2014
What are the next steps?
The Communication and the Action Plan are transmitted to the European Parliament, the Council, the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee. After endorsement by the European Council, during the 2nd half of 2015, the implementation of the Strategy started.
The launch event took place January 2016 in Slovenia. Meanwhile, the mainstreaming of the Strategy into the 2014-2020 Operational Programmes for the European Structural and Investment Funds has already taken place.