In the Alpine region, shared by eight European countries, regional cooperation began through informal “working communities” established, respectively, in 1972, 1978, and 1982 for the central, eastern, and western Alps. Six Alpine countries and the European Community signed the Alpine Convention in 1991 (Slovenia and Monaco joined within three years), an intergovernmental agreement consisting of a framework convention and ten protocols; not all Parties have ratified all protocols, depending on their respective competences and individual circumstances.

The INTERREG Alpine Space programme has funded projects since 2000. Stemming in part from the need to better coordinate the multiple programs and agreements covering the Alps, the “macroregional” European Union Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP) was adopted in 2015, providing an overall strategic framework for policy alignment and institutional coordination. The International Scientific Committee on Research in the Alps (ISCAR) was created in 1999 and is an official observer of the Convention.

Key governance dimensions


The perimeter of application is defined in an annex to the Framework Convention. It is mostly drawn along municipal boundaries and closely follow the boundaries of the mountain range.

By contrast, the spatial scope of the INTERREG Alpine Space Programme and the European Union Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP) is much larger and includes not only large lowland areas but also large metropolitan centers such as Munich, Lyon and Milan. Here, the interests, espeically in terms of use of the Alpine territory, can differ between large extra Alpine cities (and their voters) and the less populous upland regions.

Institutional formality

In the case of the Alpine Convention, most of the protocols were developed and negotiated at the same time as the framework convention in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They are legally binding in the countries that have ratified them and are part of European law for those ratified by the European Union.

So-called working communities had already emerged in the 1970s and 1980s in several European mountain regions. With the strong support for cross-border cooperation by the Council of Europe, these working communities brought together subnational governments seeking to cooperate on a range of issues, often with a cultural and socioeconomic focus yet with no power other than to issue recommendations to the respective governments. From 1980, the Madrid Convention provided a legal framework for the establishment of cross border regions, further strengthened with the introduction in 2006 of the European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation, which made it possible for cross-border cooperation bodies to obtain legal person. Working communities such as Arge Alp for the eastern Alps continue to exist and have played an important role in fostering alpine cooperation.

Civil society participation

CSOs such as WWF, Euromontana, and the International Commission for the Protection of the Alps (CIPRA) are among the 16 official observers of the Alpine Convention (alongside working communities mentioned above, as well as scientific organizations) and members of these and other organizations are active participants in the Convention’s bodies. Several other range wide CSO networks have emerged and CSOs regularly participate in projects funded by the Alpine Space Programme and to some degree EUSALP.

Funding arrangements

The density of institutional arrangements in the European Alps translates into a large variety of public and private funding mechanisms for sustainable mountain development. The majority of funding for regional activities comes from public sources, primarily from European Union programmes such as the INTERREG Alpine Space programme and, at the national level, the EU Structural and Investment Funds; these contribute significantly to the implementation of the Alpine Convention, which has only limited funding of its own. Efforts to coordinate regional policies, strategies and funding are made through EUSALP. Funding from private sources includes projects supported by foundations or NGO membership contributions, in addition to investments by local, national and international firms.

Time line


The International Commission for the Protection of the Alps (CIPRA) is established.


The Working Community of Alpine Regions (Arge Alp), established in 1972 as a partnership of subnational governments, publishes The Guideline for the Development and Protection of the Alpine Area.


CIPRA Germany in cooperation with IUCN prepares the first proposal of a position paper for an Alpine Convention.


The 1st Alpine Conference takes place in Berchtesgaden, Germany.


The Alpine Convention, an international territorial treaty for the sustainable development of the Alps, opens for signature. It is ultimately signed by eight states (Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia, and Switzerland) and the then European Economic Community and enters into force in 1995.


The Alpine Network of Protected Areas (ALPARC) is founded to assist in the implementation of the Alpine Convention’s protocol “Nature conservation and landscape management.”


The International Scientific Committee on Research in the Alps (ISCAR) is established. One year later the Alpine Conference recognizes it as an official observer of the Alpine Convention.


Following a three-year pilot phase, the first transnational EU cooperation programme for the Alps is launched under the name Interreg IIIB Alpine Space Programme.


The first Action Plan on Climate Change in the Alps is adopted by the X Alpine Conference (Evian, March 2009), as a result of reflection initiated in 2006 at the IX Alpine Conference (Alpbach Declaration).


The Network of Alpine Regions is established at the Second Conference of Alpine regions in Trento, Italy.

At the Open Days – European Week of Regions and Cities, six European regions (South Tyrol, Franche-Comté, Lombardia, Trentino, Tyrol, Western Slovenia) jointly promote discussions on an Alpine macro region.


At the XI Alpine Conference in Brdo Pri Kranju, Slovenia, the 2nd Multi-Annual Work Programme (2011-2016) is adopted with a focus on demographic change, climate change, tourism, biodiversity, and transportation/mobility. Climate change remains a key priority in the subsequent Work Programmes. A new working group on a macroregional strategy is established, chaired by Switzerland, Slovenia, and Italy.


The European Commission and the Council of the European Union adopt the European Union Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP).


The XIV Alpine Conference establishes the Alpine Climate Board (ACB) to bring together all relevant climate change activities carried out in the framework of the Alpine Convention.


The XVI Alpine Conference adopts the Climate Action Plan 2.0 to operationalize the objectives laid out in the Alpine Climate Target System 2050 (adopted by the XV Alpine Conference in 2019), a strategy focused on the added value of Alpine-wide cooperation on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Additional resources

  • Alpine Convention (-> link)
  • Alpine Climate Target System 2050 (-> link)
  • Interreg Alpine Space (-> link)
  • EU Strategy for the Alpine Region, EUSALP (-> link)
  • International Commission for the Protection of the Alps, CIPRA (-> link)
  • Alpine Network of Protected Areas, ALPARC (-> link)
  • International Scientific Committee on Research in the Alps, ISCAR (-> link)
  • Association of Alpine States, Arge Alp (-> link)

The Alps in Mountains Connect videos

  • #1: Locating mountains for governance (-> link)
  • #4: Coordinating multiple levels of governance (-> link)
  • #7: Funding sustainable mountain development (-> link)

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