Photo credit: Stefano Sala

Governance in mountain areas: what has changed in the last years?

by | Nov 29, 2021 | European stakeholders

Stefano Sala (University of Milan – UNIMONT)

The Centre of Excellence “Mountain University” (UNIMONT) is an innovative training and research centre of the University of Milan located in Edolo – a small municipality with less than 5000 inhabitants in the heart of the Italian Alps. In collaboration with the Lombardy Region – Directorate General Mountains and Small Municipalities, UNIMONT carried out a comparative analysis in order to contribute to the discussion on territorial development focusing on European mountain territories.

Recently, UNIMONT has carried out a study on governance in mountain areas which is under publication. In particular, the analysis focused on 8 European countries, of which 6 are EU Member States (Austria, Cyprus, France, Italy, Romania, Spain) and 2 are non-EU Member States (Switzerland and Norway). The study aims to provide a first overview of the priorities of intervention defined by different case studies for their respective mountain territories. The final goal is to understand if the different approaches implemented have promoted a more coherent place-based development, able to diversify the socio-economic tissue and promote place-based development processes.

Although at the European level mountain areas cover almost 29% of the Member States of the European Union and host 13% of its population (EEA, 2010), European policies to date lack an integrated strategy aimed at promoting a coherent prioritisation to facilitate sustainable development in mountain territories.

The study identifies that even at the national level there is a general lag in defining place-based policies and specific laws. Mountains have only started to be at the centre of policy makers’ attention in the last decades of the 1900s, when countries such as France started to promote the development of legislative instruments for the governance of these unique territories. This delay may be related to the fact that, in most countries, political and decision-making institutions are located in areas with a high rate of urbanisation. This has favoured the development of economic models detached from the problems, needs and potential of mountains, leaving these territories only the role of providers of primary resources and ecosystem services, with a consequent lack of resilience at the local level.

It also emerges from the analysis that there is a current momentum in different European countries and regions – such as Switzerland, France, Cyprus, Italy and Romania – towards a paradigm shift in relation to mountain territories, where there is a need to focus specifically and act with a place-based approach. This would ensure a timely and equally specific monitoring of the evolution of the situation in favour of the definition of new development models that must take into account the effects that climate change is already having on these unique and fragile environments.

It is therefore essential to define new approaches and specific strategies for interacting and communicating with the different actors, overcoming distances, as well as establishing new and strategic alliances between institutions at different territorial levels. This would facilitate the increase in knowledge and awareness needed to create a new and modern vision of the future of mountain territories.

The territorial dimension is crucial to promote a coherent place-based development model. This dimension can be taken into account either through an integrated and multi-sectoral policy, as in the case of France and Switzerland, or through a concrete coordination effort as in the case of Austria and its landers.

Clearly, this can only happen if the issue of development in mountain areas becomes “central”, also from a cultural point of view, to the extent that mountains become the recipients of investment to enhance local natural resources and grow, rather than subsidies to “support” and buffer inexorably negative phenomena and trends, with consequent benefits for society as a whole.

The study will be published shortly on the UNIMONT website. To know more contact Stefano Sala (