Stalled Alpine transport talks to restart

Alpine Convention meeting sees adoption of protocols on energy, soil protection

Environmental ministers and officials from eight Alpine countries decided to relaunch contentious negotiations aimed at a pan-Alpine transport agreement at a meeting held in Bled, Slovenia, on Friday. The initiative is seen by some NGOs as a last chance for the convention to prove its worth.

The ministerial conference brought together the eight signatory parties to the 1991 convention on the protection of the Alps. Only three - Slovenia, Switzerland and Liechtenstein - were represented by their environment ministers; Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Monaco sent government officials instead.

The main outcomes of the meeting were agreement of new protocols to the convention on soil protection and energy and the restarting of negotiations for a transport protocol. Five other protocols have been previously agreed, on nature conservation, regional planning, mountain agriculture, mountain forests, and tourism. Protocols on air pollution, water management and waste management have still to be negotiated.

Transport has so far proved the most difficult issue for the parties to address due to differences over how strong transport-environment measures should be. Talks broke down altogether in 1996 when Germany and Italy completely rejected an Austrian demand that the protocol should include a right for convention parties to veto major road developments in neighbouring countries.

Following the Bled meeting, working groups on "Alpine-specific environmental targets" and "conflict management" will now be set up to relaunch the transport talks, according to convention parties. The process, which is being coordinated by Liechtenstein, is intended to lead to signature of a transport protocol at ministers' next meeting in 2000.

Environmental NGOs say the transport dispute has harmed the convention. "If this attempt fails [then] we will have to say quite frankly [that] the whole convention has failed," said Peter Hasslacher of the Austrian Alpine Association. Governments appear more optimistic, though. "It is now out of the question to build really new motorways in the Alps," Arthur Mohr of the Swiss environment agency told ENDS Daily, "so it is much easier to discuss the issue than it was two years ago."

The soil and energy protocols agreed on Friday lay down general principles plus specific rules to be applied by the convention parties. The energy protocol, in particular, will have significant implications for future energy management, according to the Swiss government. Swiss minister Moritz Leuenberger was nevertheless unable to sign the protocol in Bled due to domestic opposition over some of its components revealed during a national consultation process this spring.

Follow Up:
Swiss environment agency, tel: +41 31 322 9311; Austrian Alpine Association, tel: +43 512 59547.

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