Rapporteurs : Mr Valerio PRIGNACHI (Italy) and Mr Valery KADOKHOV (Federation of Russia)
In May 1995, following a series of preparatory conferences held in the course of the previous years, the Congress approved an initial draft European Charter of Mountain Regions. The text was appended to Recommendation 14 (1995), which called on the Committee of Ministers to adopt it in the form of a legally binding Council of Europe convention.
The aim of the Charter in question was to ensure that policies for mountain regions came under general programmes that could serve as standard benchmarks for policies concerning any other sectors and to introduce legal, administrative, fiscal, economic and financial measures specifically geared towards mountain regions. The Charter was also aimed at encouraging the institutions of the European Union to establish a specific policy for mountain regions in the EU.
In order to place mountain populations at the centre of political concerns, while striking a balance between human activity and environmental requirements, the text urged Parties to respect the specific features of mountain regions, to implement comprehensive development policies for them and to foster greater intermunicipal, inter-regional and transfrontier co-ordination.
In spite of the favourable responses the text received, the Committee of Ministers did not agree to it becoming a Council of Europe legal instrument. It was deemed to be too binding on governments.
In response to the demands of the government representatives, in particular concerning the “form” of the draft text, a revised version was submitted in the form of an outline Convention that had the merit of easing the binding commitments laid down in Articles 5 to 18 of the original draft Charter, while retaining the fundamental principles of Recommendation 14 (1995).
The Congress thus began the process aimed at the adoption of the outline Convention, which set out the objectives and principles of a European policy for mountain regions, with an appendix containing pointers on which signatories could base their various policies for each of the sectors already identified or for others that might be identified in future. The draft was an integral part of CLRAE Recommendation 75 (2000) on the draft European outline Convention on mountain regions.
The draft outline Convention also underlined the synergy between its own provisions and those of the Alpine Convention, given the geographical complementarity of the areas concerned, the range of objectives, the disparity of the target groups and the differences in the procedures for drawing them up.
In spite of the efforts by Congress members and the fact that all opinions issued on the draft Convention were favourable, in the end, it was not opened for signature by Council of Europe member governments either. Once again, the reluctance to adopt a binding convention won the day.
The draft Recommendation
In September 2002, in accordance with the indications given in Congress Resolution 136 (2002), the Committee on Sustainable Development began work on transforming the two draft Conventions into a draft Recommendation to be adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. This draft text, which is now submitted to the Congress, was discussed and unanimously adopted by the Committee on Sustainable Development at its meeting in Strasbourg on 25 April 2003.
It is important for the draft to be adopted in the form of a Committee of Ministers Recommendation in order to give concrete effect to the initiatives taken in 2002 both within the Congress and on a wider level. 2002, which the UN declared International Year of the Mountains, was marked by a series of initiatives aimed at raising government and public awareness of mountain issues.
Although it is not binding on member governments, the draft recommendation is a balanced text that gives precise indications of the priorities and features a policy for mountain regions should involve. Its appendix sets out a European Charter for Mountains, which, while confirming the principles and policy options contained in the initial version in 1995, takes the form of a “declaratory Charter” that has a high political impact but does not have a constraining effect on Council of Europe member governments.
At the heart of the new Charter is a list of points (deliberately limited but extremely precise) that are crucial to the population groups concerned and show the way for implementing genuine policies for mountain regions in the member states. In particular, this involves combating the exodus of young people, preserving the cultural values specific to mountain regions, establishing the infrastructure and facilities necessary for improving the quality of life (including improvements to public services, the accessibility of mountain regions and the relocation of certain government activities to mountain regions), using energy resources in a manner compatible with environmental requirements, preserving and modernising farmland and pastureland, maintaining existing industry and craft industries and developing the tertiary sector (in particular tourism and activities based on new technologies).
The Charter is aimed not only at protecting the environment but also at bringing about the overall social and economic development of the regions concerned, and underlines the need for effective co-ordination between the various government and inter-regional tiers.
The Charter also aims at increasing the role of local and regional authorities in organising and representing their interests in accordance with the principles of self-government and subsidiarity set out in the European Charter of Local Self-Government by enabling them to act in support of mountain regions both within member states and at European level.
After all, Europe’s mountains are an outstanding natural and socio-cultural asset whose role must be recognised and enhanced. Success in promoting the sustainable development of mountain regions requires the formulation of a series of principles that make it possible for mountain populations to live and work in their home areas and enjoy living standards comparable to those in other regions.
Unfortunately, mountain regions have not yet attained that status and are still wrongly regarded as “disadvantaged areas”. There is now an urgent need to implement suitable policies for protecting and capitalising on Europe’s mountain regions if we wish to maintain the environmental and social balance of the continent as a whole. It is also essential to introduce policies framed within transfrontier and European legal instruments with a view to ensuring that the protection of the natural environment dovetails with balanced and sustainable economic development.
In the absence of basic principles that are recognised and deemed acceptable at European level, any initiatives taken in this field are bound to be sectoral and restricted to specific geographical areas, ie they will not be in line with the uniform policy that Europe’s mountains require.
At a time when economic globalisation means that regional/spatial planning has a central role in guaranteeing long-term sustainable development and when market forces have broken down national borders, there is an urgent need to lay down priorities and principles for guiding national, international and transfrontier policies. Against this background, partnership between local and regional authorities and the European institutions is crucial to the development of a co-ordinated policy for mountain regions.
It is in response to these challenges that the draft Recommendation, including the European Charter for Mountains, has been drawn up, bearing in mind the principles of subsidiarity, partnership, solidarity, participation and transfrontier co-operation. The Charter is also a practical tool for dealing with the challenges in European mountain regions that have common economic, social and environmental problems where the implementation of consistent policies on both sides of international frontiers is often necessary.
As has already been stressed in the past, the main reasons for the difficulties in “rebalancing” Europe’s territory include, inter alia, the equation of the concept of “mountains” with that of disadvantaged or underdeveloped areas, whereas the specific features of mountain regions actually mean that it is necessary to define objectives specific to them and adjust the relevant measures accordingly.
From this point of view, it is essential that mountain populations enjoy balanced and sustainable economic development and the right to live and work in their home regions, that their environment is preserved and that they are guaranteed living conditions and standards equivalent to those in other more advantaged rural or urban areas.
It is essential for all people in Europe, including those living outside mountain regions, to be able to promote a policy of territorial cohesion in order to foster the balanced development of our continent’s different regions.
Europe’s mountains are an outstanding social and cultural asset that must be developed and preserved. They must be defended in a manner that respects and preserves the social identity, traditions and culture of their populations.
1 Approved unanimously by the committee on Sustainable Development on 25 April 2003