Switzerland shares the Alps with seven other countries, and although the 11.2 million people who live in them speak different languages and have different histories, they nevertheless face common problems. Decisions and policies made by one will have an impact on all.
That's why in 1998 all eight Alpine states – Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia and Switzerland – plus the European Union as a whole signed the Alpine Convention. In April of the following year, the Convention entered into force in Switzerland. However, Switzerland and Italy have yet to ratify any of the additional protocols, while the EU has ratified a selected few.
The Alpine Conference has its Permanent Secretariat in Innsbruck (Austria), as well as an office in Bolzano (Italy) which is responsible for providing technical support and research.
Protecting the alpine ecosystem
The challenge of the convention lies in finding a balance between economic viability and sustainability. The negotiations were not easy for the Swiss central government, which found itself opposed by most of the mountain cantons. They considered that responsibility for their own area was being taken out of their hands, and saw the Convention as laying so much stress on protection of the environment that their livelihoods would be threatened.
In Switzerland the cantons enjoy considerable autonomy and had the government ignored them, it could have faced a referendum over the issue. These cantons therefore had to be included in the negotiating progress to ensure a compromise in which their interests were taken into account.
A model for other mountain regions
Given that the Alpine Convention aims to harmonise policies and to promote sustainable development, it could also be in the best interests of other mountain regions and their local communities to follow the example set by this multilateral framework agreement.