4 scenarios for the future of the Alpine region

The Alpine region is characterised by spectacular landscape features and precious cultural heritage, which make it a touristic destination of global importance. Overall, the region is prosperous but it is also an ecological hot spot – diverse, unique, and vulnerable.

At the same time, the Alpine region is a space of important internal linkages and it is characterised by increasing embeddedness in global networks.  Located in the heart of Europe, the region is part of the dynamic development of a globally integrated economy.

Globalisation and the need for competitive economic activities are important driving forces for the Alpine region but also challenge the regional policies developed in this area. Some of the most important issues on the political agenda are related to the prosperity and quality of life, innovation, climate change, and agricultural transformation.

The Alpine region has a long-standing experience in territorial cooperation that goes back at least to the 1970s.  This cooperation is implemented through different EU and national instruments and cross-border programmes for various issues of regional policy and spatial development.

The ESPON project “Alps 2050 – Common spatial perspectives for the Alpine area- Towards a common vision” provided an interesting analysis for the common future development of the area with a projection towards 2050. Although looking forward more than three decades is a very long period of time, especially in these dynamic days, strategic spatial development has to be able to draft future visions in order to provide ‘orientation’ for development.

These scenarios start from the current status quo that carries forward existing patterns and trends and build three contrasting narratives that reflect the differences in priorities and political world views.

Scenario 1 – Status quo

The status quo (or trend) scenario assumes that the hitherto dominant trends will be carried forward. Development paths are mainly based on national, domestic politics that lead to complex spatial patterns. The overall positive trend in economic development continues. However, this comes along with only limited success in achieving sustainable development and strategic spatial development. Different spatial trends in demography and settlement lead to dispersed developments, blurring the spatial structure of mountainous and non-mountainous regions and the urban-rural relations.

Scenario 2 – Protected Alps

The second perspective underlines the necessity to protect the inner-Alpine mountainous areas. The Alpine mountains are precious and vulnerable natural and cultural heritage. Touristic demand, transport needs, settlement growth and other human activities have put this region under high pressure. Protection regimes as initiated by the Alpine Convention are more than necessary and are further strengthened. The dynamic of the ‘metropolitan ring’ surrounding the Alps will be organised in a way that does not question sustainable development within the Alps (e.g. with regard to settlement sprawl, transport emissions).

Scenario 3 – Functional space

The scenario that describes the Alpine region as one ‘functional space’ underlines the necessity to improve linkages between the different subregions. Towards the year 2050, the relationship between mountainous inner-Alpine and the more urbanised pre-Alpine parts will be strengthened, and in parallel, the cross-border relations will be addressed more intensively. This has to be seen against the background that the territorial structure of the Alpine region is complex: The numerous borders between the Alpine countries have caused frictions for a long time. Moreover, the Alpine region has important relations to adjacent regions in terms of ecology, transport etc.. Smart spatial development strategies overcome existing frictions with innovative political agreements and with adequate infrastructure investments. Removing barriers and enhancing functional links is of key importance, e.g. for labour markets, budget organisation, public services.

Scenario 4 – European core

The Alpine region is one of the most successful economic spaces in Europe and one of the most attractive touristic destinations worldwide. Its position in the centre of Europe results in high transit flows which ensure European economic prospering. It is of major importance to build on this strong basis. The metropolitan hubs and the major corridors are the basis of successful spatial development. Attracting skilled labour force and entrepreneurial investments is as important as ensuring good transport and economic flows on the Alpine and European level (e.g. with regard to transport and ICT infrastructure).

These 4 scenarios are also summarized in the table below:

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Article edited by Michaela Gensheimer and Nikos Lampropoulos, Project Expert Press and Media Activities

You can also fin the article in French, provided by RIATE