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Logics and Contradictions of Transalpine Transport within the Context of Political and Social Relations in Europe

Manfred Perlik
p. 103-112
Traduction(s) :
Logiques et contradictions du trafic transalpin dans le contexte politique et social européen


Dans les régions alpines, deux intérêts contradictoires coexistent. Une part de la population se plaint du manque d’accessibilité et de mobilité, l’autre part de la population est correctement desservie par les axes routiers internationaux mais en subit des nuisances importantes. Ces régions argumentent qu’une bonne part de ces transports est superflue, voire inutile. Cet article rend compte d’une étude qui s’est intéressée aux points suivants : 1 - Est-ce que des transports superflus ou inutiles pourraient être déplacés sans être remplacés ? 2 - Est-ce que les politiques fondées sur des redistributions modales ou sur le marché, comme la tarification des passages, sont suffisantes pour réduire les transports et leurs impacts ? 3 - Sous quelles conditions le transport peut-il être réduit de la manière la plus complète ? Des réponses sont proposées ici en analysant trois champs pertinents pour comprendre l’augmentation du trafic : la logique politique, la logique économique, et la logique de développement spatial. Ces logiques sont interprétées selon une approche régulationiste. Chacune a son application en terme d’arguments normatifs. Néanmoins, il y a des contradictions entre les différents objectifs sociétaux et/ou politiques et les objectifs économiques, et plus particulièrement entre la recherche de compétitivité et le respect de conditions de vie équitables entre les différentes régions. De telles contradictions peuvent être expliquées par les processus d’unification européenne, par les intérêts divergents entre les acteurs majeurs et par les changements de valeur des trente dernières années, qui peuvent être caractérisés comme un changement de régime. Les trois logiques sont le fruit de rapports sociaux et sont donc sujettes à des changements sur le long terme par les acteurs. Selon les principes du développement durable, à un niveau global, et dans l’intérêt des régions concernées, des solutions plus radicales en terme de régime accumulatif revisité ou de régime régulateur, doivent être considérées et validées sur le long terme.

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Notes de la rédaction

Translated from German by: Mercury Translations Ltd, London, U.K.

Notes de l’auteur

This article summarises the results of a survey carried out within the framework of the Interreg IIIB project MONITRAF.

Texte intégral

Three thematic fields with their internal logics to explain the increase in traffic

The political logic

  • 1  For details please see references.

1Transport and mobility base upon the political and economic logics of an increasingly unifying Europe. Our analysis of political logic draws upon on key European documents1as well as on certain national laws of Germany and Switzerland. One can subsume to this:

- The political will to create a European single market to achieve economies of scale which means of a large-scale spatial division of labour.

- Socio-political vision (peace and variety among cultures underneath one common umbrella).

- Regional development without a major social gradient, so that the project does not fail due to internal contradictions.

  • 2  Information of the EU DG C II in the draft version of the EU’s 7th Research Framework Programme.

Table 1. Key figures on the significance of transport within the European union2.

Table 1. Key figures on the significance of transport within the European union2.

2*Estimations in the Coalition Agreement of the German federal government of 2005

3At the same time, the Europe’s political logic shows essential contradictions in its primary objectives:

- The European Union is a single market as well as a political community. In the documents of its founding phase dominate the economic aspects. But at the same time, a political process of integration was set in motion, which saved Europe from major wars. Although the EU as an institution is perceived in quite a controversial manner by its population, the political and cultural integration as well as the enlarged individual mobility are almost never disputed. The EU is both, a market and a political community.

- Different patterns of regulations exist under the European umbrella. The historic heterogeneity of European countries with its various traditional thinking patterns and cultures persists and can be seen in different interpretations in the daily compromise finding in European policy (e.g. in ecological issues or the role of transport).

- Different periods of time exist next to each other. At first there was the ideology of economic growth. Then sustainability was claimed. The most current policies reflect the focus on strong poles which are competitive in a globalised world.

- Different interests of transit corridors, peripheral regions, and metropolitan areas. This is no surprise since it was the cause of the protest movement against the transalpine traffic and against the deterioration of the infrastructure in the mountain region. This means: The coexistence of conflicting rules and regulations is a source of permanent bargaining between interests. Actually, the strategy of the EU to achieve long-term cohesion by linking political and economic integration lends a great significance to mobility. An increase of interaction between the stakeholders is favoured, even by the residents of the mountain regions. Acceptance problems only occur where people are directly concerned. The coexistence of different views and interests offers also a potential for change and innovation in the interest of regions affected by transport but only as long as these regions are considered as demographically, economically, and culturally equivalent.

The economic logic

4The analysis of economic logic is based on the observable processes of economic reconstruction under global aspects, the choice of location and relocation by enterprises, and the regions’ efforts to maintain their respective economic power. The following aspects are relevant in generating traffic:

- The quantitative enlargement of the production of commodities in order to achieve economies of scale as well as to prevent social conflicts of repartition by growth strategies

- The growing interaction between the economic actors.

- The weakening of local markets tied to the territory.

- Transport has a double function: It is a processing step of the production of goods as well as an economic sector with its own interests of exploitation. Thus, logistics business and thus the traffic volume have been steadily increasing.

- The dominance of transport on the roads is due to a better adjustment of this sector to production requirements (miniaturisation, shorter delivery intervals) and to a change of societal paradigms (accelerated change of product portfolios, greater emphasis on customer satisfaction).

- New production systems allow for an increased centralisation. Functional and spatial division of labour continues to increase until its disadvantages (i.e. the negative effects of forced mobility) outweigh its advantages.

5This also goes to show the following: Although the economic logic is coherent in itself, contradictions exist nevertheless, the most prominent of them the conflict of interests between the economic actors and, increasingly, between the regions, which also pursue economic objectives (regional growth) in their position as collective actors.

The logic of spatial and regional development

6Spatial development is also an indicator for the shifts in significance, wealth and power between urban and rural areas as well as between individual cities. Thus, the logic of regional development is an interface between economic dynamism and the contingencies of regional stakeholders to shape and implement such developments.

7In the course of time, the main trend runs towards a centralisation of production and decision-making structures, but it is – during periods – interrupted due to socio-political constellations. The current development favours the growth of the metropolitan areas (Fig. 1). There, opportunities of interaction for regional stakeholders and the sociocultural environment necessary for such opportunities are constantly regenerating themselves due to the great amount of heterogeneity, i.e. the fact that old and new elements exist next to each other. Peripheral regions, however, are redesigned into leisure landscapes, mainly causing a decline in significance compared to their earlier function. Through such a structural change, small towns and rural areas lose a variety of features that are related to history, emotions, and the corresponding quality of life.

Figures 1 and 2. In Switzerland, the urban hierarchy acuminates. A model of 6 metropolitan areas has replaced a former 12-pole model. If the centralisation of high-quality services continues, this model could soon be outdated by the 2-pole model shown in the scenario.

Figures 1 and 2. In Switzerland, the urban hierarchy acuminates. A model of 6 metropolitan areas has replaced a former 12-pole model. If the centralisation of high-quality services continues, this model could soon be outdated by the 2-pole model shown in the scenario.

Dessemontet, Perlik, Schuler, 2005.

Normative aspects of logics and their modification

8The illustration of the three logics leads to the result that all three of these topics contain normative elements, even the economic logic which is subjected to ever-changing basic assumptions, preferences, and investment considerations.

9Therefore, the increase in traffic in Europe is a result of:

- large-scale spatial division of labour in production as a consequence of new economic models and technologies as well as;

- increasing mobility caused by social and cultural changes.

- Since individual groups of actors benefit and others suffer from traffic, we can by and large not differentiate between « necessary»  and « unnecessary»  traffic. The increase in traffic is neither illogical nor abusive, but rather corresponds very well to the model of worldwide production and repartition currently existing. This model is productive – inasmuch and as long as the basic assumptions are generally shared and the economic, social, cultural, and ecological impacts caused by them are accepted.

10All the three logics are embedded into societal and institutional systems called regimes in the concept of the French regulation theory. On the one hand, there is the accumulation regime defining the technological conditions, the organisation of production and the impacts and risks put up in that regard; on the other hand, there is the regulation regime defining the repartition of value added but also the opportunities and impacts imposed to the individual regions. These regimes always refer to a stable long-term relation between two different paths of action for the collective actors. Such regimes can be either competition-oriented or rather retributive; they can emphasise regional hierarchies or equitable regional development. These factors are decisive for the influence of specific groups of stakeholders or regions within Europe.

Goal conflicts and preference changes

11Conflicts arise and changes happen even within stable regimes. The traffic-related EU documents show a great bandwidth in the period of time between the Founding Agreement of the European Community of 1957 and the White Paper on Traffic of 2001. These documents reflect the different times in which they were drawn up as well as the quite diverging manner in which the EU member states perceived problems. Goal conflicts, colliding interests, or preference changes always allow a variety of decision-making paths, at the same time indicating a potential for change in the future. One of these conflicts of objectives are the diverging interests between countries with manufacturing or research activities and countries with commercial activities (see box 1).

Box 1: Parallel imports of pharmaceutical products

Box 1: Parallel imports of pharmaceutical products

Unleashing the flow of traffic in post-fordism

12If internal and external contradictions exceed, even stable societal conditions (social compromises, risk assessments, consumption patterns) are not sustainable anymore. A regime change occurs. Such a change of paradigms set in in the mid-1970s after three decades of uninterrupted economic growth. Until then, the prevailing model was to spread out social conflicts by distributing the gains of productivity among all social groups and regions according to the bargained social compromise. Suddenly, it became obvious that other goods would become scarce instead. Biophysical qualities got an own value and were managed according to aspects of efficiency. As a consequence, the model of equally distributing the technical infrastructure and social achievements was replaced by a model of strong differentiation claiming equivalence instead of equality. Recently, even equivalence is called into question: The process of shrinking cities in East Germany is commented by the German planning authority that it will not be possible to maintain equivalence everywhere (BBR, 2004), although this stands in conflict with the German constitution.

13One of the consequences of the economic crisis was the redeployment of investment capital from industrial production to economic sectors with a higher return on investment as well as a re-organisation of production, better known under the term globalisation. The spatial division of functions increased once more, this time covering greater, worldwide distances (box 2).

Box 2: Transport relevant macro-trends of the regime change from Fordism to post-Fordism 1975 – 1995

Box 2: Transport relevant macro-trends of the regime change from Fordism to post-Fordism 1975 – 1995

14Originally, the regime change was triggered by the lack of energy resources. It is remarkable how the new post-Fordist accumulation regime ameliorated energy-saving on the technological side, but at the same time unleashed the total consumption of fossil energy without thinking of countermeasures from early on. This contradiction remains unsolved to date and has continuously exacerbated with the military capture of resources since 1990.

An efficient reduction of traffic may only be achieved by a regime change

15The argumentation so far showed that the existing logics are coherent in themselves and contradictory at the same time. In their coherence, these logics prove that traffic and its impact on the affected regions are an integral part of stable regimes, which create regional winners and losers through assessments and preferences. The contradictions described show that existing societal arrangements can change in principle. As a consequence of modificated preferences, the current position of the EU with regard to transport is more differentiated than before; the White Paper on Traffic proclaims measures to reduce the increase of transport. However, the last decades show that the effects of traffic became particularly negative when Fordist regime turned to post-Fordism. Therefore, one cannot expect to solve the problems of transport sufficiently and in a sustainable manner only by means of technical solutions or a modification of the modal split. While technical and relocation strategies are vital in the medium run, they create additional transport capacities at the same time. In the long run, transport has to be reduced in order to save resources, space, and working hours (the impacts of forced mobility) and comply with the Kyoto Protocol.

16An efficient reduction of traffic requires a change in the relation between the relevant societal actors and, consequently, another regime change in terms of how is produced as well as how opportunities and impacts are shared. This will be a long-term task, as already the change from Fordist to post-Fordist regime showed its effects very retarded and took place over a long time (in the case of Switzerland more than 20 years; Schuler/Perlik/Pasche, 2004).

Possible framework conditions of resource-friendly regimes

The political logic

The economic logic

The logic of spatial development

Five Recommendations for Regions with Transit Corridors

17Long-term perspective: The change to new regime of regulation is only possible on a longterm basis. As the example of Switzerland shows, the effects will be visible only very retarded. Therefore, any future changes need to be initiated now.

18Capacity to act: To increase the quality of life will only be successful if the local economy differs not so much from other regions and if a critical mass of earning and dwelling population may make itself heard on the national or European level.

19Gain in competences: The regions, especially the sparsely populated ones, constantly need to reinvent their right to exist. One possibility would be to positively rephrase specific problems and impacts and make use of these in order to acquire new special knowledge, for instance by investing in research and knowledge capacities dealing with the region’s traffic impacts.

20Division of labour: The spatial division of labour currently existing in Europe needs to be taken into account. It would be a social as well as an ecological disaster if one of the two European main industrial regions – Northern Italy and South Germany – declined economically as a result of ongoing spatial centralisation. And it is more than ever unacceptable to hope for a return to « autarkic»  lifestyles or economies since this will probably only be the case after sever social or ethnic conficts.

21Regional ties: The rural areas have safeguarded regional embeddedness for a long time and in many cases still continue to do so through agriculture, handicraft, and industry. It would be a mistake to weaken them anymore. But nevertheless the regions need to attract a minimum of new people, business activities, not just residents and tourists. For this it is important to strengthen the urban elements in the mountains.

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ARE, OFFICE FÉDÉRAL DU DÉVELOPPEMENT TERRITORIAL, 2005. – Rapport sur le développement territorial. Berne.

BBR, BUNDESAMT FÜR BAUWESEN UND RAUMORDNUNG, 2004 (February). – Informationen aus der Forschung des BBR Nr.1.

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DÉPARTEMENT FÉDÉRAL DE L’ÉCONOMIE, 2004. – Importations parallèles et droit des brevets. Épuisement régional. Rapport du Conseil fédéral du 3 décembre 2004 en réponse au postulat 03.3423 de la CER-CN ainsi qu’aux postulats 04.3164 et 04.3197. Berne.

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Laws and ordinances

European Union

- EU Community Agreement (Consolidated Version of the Founding Agreement of the European Community)

- White Paper on Traffic

- Council resolutions of Lisbon, Resolution 1692/96 Trans-European Networks

- 3rd Report on Economic and Social Cohesion (Cohesion Report)

- SDEC (1999)

- EU-Mountain Study (NORDREGIO, 2004)

Alpine Convention

- Framework Agreement and Traffic Protocol


- Federal Constitution, incl. articles for the protection of the Alps (Alpine Initiative),

- Law on Spatial Planning (RPG),

- Law on Investment Assistance (IHG),

- New Regional Policy (EXPERTENKOMMISSION, 2003)

- Report on Spatial Development (ARE, 2005)

- Federal Law on the Transfer of Transalpine Heavy-duty Traffic to Railways of October 8th, 1999.


- Basic Law (Grundgesetz) und Law on Spatial Development (ROG)

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1  For details please see references.

2  Information of the EU DG C II in the draft version of the EU’s 7th Research Framework Programme.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1. Key figures on the significance of transport within the European union2.
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
Titre Figures 1 and 2. In Switzerland, the urban hierarchy acuminates. A model of 6 metropolitan areas has replaced a former 12-pole model. If the centralisation of high-quality services continues, this model could soon be outdated by the 2-pole model shown in the scenario.
Fichier image/jpeg, 268k
Crédits Dessemontet, Perlik, Schuler, 2005.
Fichier image/jpeg, 348k
Titre Box 1: Parallel imports of pharmaceutical products
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre Box 2: Transport relevant macro-trends of the regime change from Fordism to post-Fordism 1975 – 1995
Fichier image/jpeg, 64k
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Fichier image/jpeg, 42k
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Manfred Perlik, « Logics and Contradictions of Transalpine Transport within the Context of Political and Social Relations in Europe  », Revue de Géographie Alpine | Journal of Alpine Research, 95-1 | 2007, 103-112.

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Manfred Perlik, « Logics and Contradictions of Transalpine Transport within the Context of Political and Social Relations in Europe  », Revue de Géographie Alpine | Journal of Alpine Research [En ligne], 95-1 | 2007, mis en ligne le 03 mars 2009, consulté le 29 juin 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Manfred Perlik

Austrian Academy of Sciences–Mountain Research, Man and Environment Technikerstr. 21a, Otto Hittmair-Platz 1 – A-6020 Innsbruck.

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