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EN:European Working Communities

From Historisches Lexikon Bayerns

by Alexander Wegmaier

Bavaria's interregional associations with various international regions, which were mainly established in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The aim of these working communities was, and continues to be, to solve problems that transcend regional borders and to cooperate in matters of transalpine transport links, Alpine regional planning, the preservation of the cultural and recreational landscape, the economy, nature and environmental protection and cultural relations. Furthermore, they serve(d) to give their members more political weight by bundling interests as well as making the national borders in Europe more porous. With the progressing integration of the European Union (EU), new cooperation platforms were created, which led to an identity crisis for the existing European Working Communities. Bavaria therefore terminated its membership in the Alps-Adriatic and Danube Regions Working Communities on 31 December 2005 and sought to establish new multilateral forms of cooperation with their partners after the turn of the millennium.

General classification

The European Working Communities of the Alpine countries, the countries bordering Lake Constance, the Eastern Alps and the Adriatic regions and the Danube countries as well as the "Europa der Regionen" (Europe of Regions) series of conferences and the network of European regions with legislative powers represent Bavaria's interregional associations, which on the one hand serve to solve border-transcending problems, but on the other hand also have a political function in terms of the regionalisation of Europe.

The cooperation of the German states with other European regions stood on shaky constitutional ground for a long time. It was undisputed that, with the enforcement of regional planning and development as instruments of political control, natural, cultural and economic commonalities in border regions often required forms of cooperation to solve common challenges, and that the state administrations often had greater expertise in the relevant policy areas. However, since the responsibility for foreign relations, according to Art. 32 of the Grundgesetz (GG, Basic Law), lay with the federal government, it observed the states' first contacts with other countries or regional units with suspicion. Yet, as long as the cooperation was limited to factual issues and the competences under constitutional law were preserved, it did not raise any objections in principle. It was only the introduction of the new paragraph 1a of Article 24 of the Basic Law in 1992, according to which the states can transfer sovereign rights to institutions that include neighbouring countries with the consent of the Federal Government, provided they have the domestic competency for this, which legitimised interregional cooperation under constitutional law.

Association of Alpine Countries (Arge Alp)

The Association of Alpine Countries logo. (Picture: Arge Alp)

The Arge Alp was born out of a series of bilateral collaborations between Bavaria, Tyrol and South Tyrol in the 1960s. The initiative for cooperation between the countries in the central Alpine region came from the Bavaria-Tyrol discussion group, which had existed since 1969, and was further substantiated at a meeting with Landeshauptmann (Premier) Eduard Wallnöfer (Austrian People’s Party / ÖVP, 1913-1989, Premier 1963-1987) and Minister president Alfons Goppel (Christian Social Union / CSU, 1905-1991, Minister president 1962-1978) on 25 July 1972 through the idea of an Alpine conference.

Wallnöfer invited the heads of government of the federal states, regions and autonomous provinces of Bavaria, Grisons, Lombardy, Salzburg, South Tyrol, Tyrol and Vorarlberg to Mösern in Tyrol on 12 and 13 October 1972. There they agreed to work together on issues of transalpine road and rail transport, alpine regional planning – in particular settlement structure – the preservation of the cultural and recreational landscape and agriculture, and to cooperate on environmental protection and cultural relations, setting up three preparatory commissions on transport, mountain regions and culture. From there, regular meetings were to be held with a "minimum of institutionalisation", organized in the framework of an association managed by the Office of the Tyrolean Provincial Government. Results were to be decided upon in regular conferences of the heads of government, under rotating presidencies, and forwarded as joint recommendations to the respective national institutions responsible for their implementation. The Province of Trento accepted an invitation for collaboration extended in Mösern in 1973. The Canton of St. Gallen joined in 1982 and the Canton of Ticino in 1986.

In addition to the executive cooperation in the individual topic areas, the promotion of scientific and civil society activities with a link to the Alpine region became part of the cooperation early on. After Austria's accession to the EU in 1995, the coordination of the Alpine regions' aligned positions in dealings with the EU institutions became a more significant factor, in order to more effectively represent issues specific to the Alps, e.g. surrounding transport policy, together.

International Lake Constance Conference (IBK)

The development of the IBK started with the first Lake Constance Conference, convened on 14 January 1972 by the Baden-Wuerttemberg Minister president Hans Filbinger (Christian Democratic Union / CDU, 1913-2007, Minister president 1966-1978), at which politicians and officials from various political levels in Germany, Austria and Switzerland discussed environmental problems that threatened Lake Constance. After two follow-up conferences, the consultations were given an organisational framework in 1979 by the states and cantons of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Schaffhausen, St. Gallen, Thurgau and Vorarlberg under the name "International Lake Constance Conference": a standing committee at civil servant level and commissions on specific subjects structured the increasing number of topics and prepared the resolutions made at the regular Heads of Government conferences. A separate office with a coordination, information and advisory remit was established in Constance in 1994. The Cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden joined the IBK in 1993, the Canton of Zurich and the Principality of Liechtenstein in 1998.

The objectives of the IBK were to work together on the economic and touristic development of the Lake Constance region, to solve environmental issues together, to improve transport links and to cooperate on the preservation of regional culture and cultural monuments. To this end, the IBK first participated in the development of the international model for the Lake Constance area by the German-Swiss and the German-Austrian Spatial Planning Commission in 1982 and replaced it in 1994 and 2008 by its own further developed models with shared development goals, which are concretised with a catalogue of measures regularly updated by the commissions. In addition to its governmental work, the IBK has funded border-transcending civic exchange projects since 2010.

Working Community of the Countries and Regions of the Eastern Alpine Regions (Arge Alpen-Adria)

The Working Community Association of the Countries and Regions of the Eastern Alpine Regions logo (Picture: Arge Alpen-Adria)

The Alps-Adriatic Working Community has its origins firstly in the "Alps-Adriatic Spatial Planning Group" ("Quadrigon") formed in 1969 by Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Carinthia, Croatia and Slovenia. Secondly, having been unsuccessful in its attempts to be accepted into the Arge Alp, the Province of Styria tried to initiate a counterbalancing measure by the Eastern Alps regions to the Arge Alp from 1974 onwards. The "Working Community of the Countries and Regions of the Eastern Alpine Regions (Alps-Adriatic)" with the countries, regions and republics of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Carinthia, Croatia, Upper Austria, Slovenia, Styria and Veneto as members, and Bavaria and Salzburg as active observers, was consequently founded in Venice on 20 November 1978.

The organisational structures as a working community with an office at the Office of the Carinthian Provincial Government and its objectives were closely aligned with the provisions of the Arge Alp and related to the coordination of transalpine transport links, port traffic, the economy, tourism, environmental protection, regional planning and cultural relations issues. Joint spatial planning and environmental reports in 1982 were the first factual results of the cooperation.

In the 1980s, the Hungarian counties of Baranya, Somogy, Vas and Zala, Burgenland, Trento, Lombardy and Ticino also joined (the last three left together with Bavaria in 2005). In 1988, the Arge Alpen-Adria was noticeably enhanced in status by the national governments of the participating regions when the foreign ministers of Germany, Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia and Hungary, who were present at the General Assembly in Millstatt (Carinthia), stated in the "Millstatt Declaration" that the Arge Alpen-Adria was in accordance with the provisions of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, that it was therefore serving pan-European interests and that it would continue to be supported by the nation states. The cooperation between regions belonging to Western, communist and neutral states was marketed as a prototype of pragmatic cooperation in the "Europa der Regionen". After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and during the Yugoslav wars, it also provided a forum for dialogue about potential political futures.

With the accession of Slovenia, Hungary and finally Croatia to the European Union in 2004 and 2013 respectively, the working community lost its self-assigned role as a "bridgehead" for the EU's eastern expansion. The original areas of cooperation remained as its working basis. Its renaming to the "Alps-Adriatic Alliance" in 2013, is supposed to express a stronger focus on cooperation in the areas of economy, sport, culture and youth and the new goal of obtaining the most EU funding possible for the alliance's joint projects.

Working Community of the Danube Regions

In 1982, the premier of Lower Austria Siegfried Ludwig (ÖVP, 1926-2013, Premier 1981-1992) proposed the foundation of a working community for the Danube region. In addition to Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Vienna and Bavaria, the regions of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria and the Soviet Union along the Danube were to take part in it in order to cooperate on landscape and water protection issues as well as cultural and touristic contacts in the Danube region. A "Joint Declaration" on the foundation of a "Middle Danube Working Community", which had been devised by representatives of Lower Austria, Bavaria, Upper Austria, Vienna, Western Slovakia, Sopron county and the embassies of Yugoslavia and Hungary by 1983, was ultimately not signed by Slovakia and Hungary for "protocolary reasons"; hence it was agreed to cooperate in the spirit of the Joint Declaration as a "discussion forum for the Danube regions" without formal organisation.

Continuous dialogue between representatives of the eastern Danube neighbouring states created the prerequisites for the transformation of the discussion forum into a formal Working Community of the Danube Regions by 1990, leading to the founding of the Arge Donauländer by the German and Austrian federal states of Bavaria, Burgenland, Lower Austria and Upper Austria, the Hungarian counties of Györ-Moson-Sopron, Komarom-Esztergom, Pest, Fejer, Bacs-Kiskun, Tolna and Baranya and the republics of Serbia and Moldova as members, as well as South Moravia and Western Slovakia as observers on 16/17 May 1990 in Maria Taferl (district of Melk, Lower Austria). The working community's purpose was to work together on the development of the Danube region in the areas of economy, regional planning, transport, nature and environmental protection, tourism and culture and to contribute to peaceful cooperation in Europe. The administrative organisation was based on the Arge Alp.

Over time, the republics of Croatia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic as well as the Romanian Federation of Danube Counties (1991), the state of Baden-Württemberg, the city of Budapest and the Bulgarian regions of Lovech and Montana (1992), the Odessa region (1993) and the Bulgarian region of Russe (1996) joined. The political appeals of the early 1990s calling for a peaceful settlement between the Yugoslav successor states were ineffective and led to the temporary exclusion of Serbia (1992-1996) and an aid programme for the restoration of destroyed cultural assets in Croatia. The documents adopted in 1996 on a "Model for sustainable development in the Danube region" and on "Guidelines for transport development", which were drawn up under Bavarian leadership, were the first tangible results of cooperation in the field of policy. The "Danube Cultural Map", which was started in 1998, is intended to present the historical and cultural commonalities of the Danube region.

Bavaria terminated its membership in both the Alps-Adriatic and the Danube regions working communities on 31 December 2005. With the expansion of the EU to the East and the future possibility of increased multilateral cooperation on the Regions of the EU committee, it was felt that the main objectives of the two working communities had been achieved, and there was a desire to concentrate more on bilateral priority projects with regions in South-East Europe. A thematic continuation of the cooperation in the Danube region is the irregular "Little Danube Summit" between Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Austria and Hungary.

"Europa der Regionen" conference

In order to strengthen the principles of Federalism and subsidiarity in the European Community (EC), the Bavarian Minister president Max Streibl (CSU, 1932-1998, Minister president 1988-1993) initiated a series of conferences entitled "Europa der Regionen” in 1989, to which he invited EC regions that had been given autonomous powers in their nation state. The conference came into being as a reaction to the "Assembly of European Regions" founded in 1987, which, from the Bavarian point of view, did not allow for an effective enforcement of interests due to the heterogeneity of its members under constitutional law. A formalised organisational structure was deliberately not envisaged. In five conferences, the first of which took place in Munich on 18-19 October 1989, with 36 regions from nine nation states taking part, the participating regions drew up demands for the principle of subsidiarity to be enshrined, for the regions to be given the lead on negotiations and votes in the EC Council of Ministers on issues that fell within their domestic competence, for the regions’ independent access to the European Court of Justice in the European Treaties and for the right to elect the European Parliament according to regional constituencies.

With the series of conferences having played a major role in the inclusion of the principle of subsidiarity and the Committee of the Regions in the Maastricht Treaty, it was decided to discontinue the series at the fifth conference in Braunschweig in 1992.

Conference of European Regions with Legislative Power (Regleg)

In 2001, the Bavarian Minister president Edmund Stoiber (CSU, born 1941, Minister president 1993-2007) took up the idea of the "Europa der Regionen" series of conferences and initiated, together with other regions, the "Regleg" network, which brought together 73 regions with legislative powers from Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Portugal and Spain on an informal basis and held annual summits with the heads of government under rotating presidencies.

The aim is on the one hand to exchange political information and experience, on the other hand to improve the institutional position of the regions at EU level through more distinct compliance with the principle of subsidiarity, a right of action for the regions before the European Court of Justice and a strengthening of the Committee of the Regions. The EU Reform Treaty of Lisbon adopted in 2007 picked up some of these concerns, largely thanks to the work of Regleg.


The European Working Communities – for Bavaria – initially had the direct practical significance of cooperation with neighbours on cross-border issues, especially in the fields of economy, spatial planning, environment and culture. In addition, however, interregional cooperation also served to give its members more political weight by pooling their interests and to make the national borders in Europe more porous, thus creating an example and basis for a regionalised and federalist order of future Europe in the spirit of a Europe of regions. Although the working communities respected the national rules of jurisdiction by the mere recommendatory nature of their decisions, they also deliberately intervened in the national domain of foreign relations by their very existence, thus creating a forum for the members to make their claim to statehood clear.

With the progressing integration of the EU since Maastricht and the EU expansion to the East, national borders became increasingly porous. New cooperation platforms emerged at EU level. As a result, the working communities increasingly fell into an identity and existence crisis. This was underpinned by a heterogenization of their members, since the former Yugoslav republics are now sovereign nation states – with all competencies that come with it – whilst the Hungarian counties, for example, have only limited independent authority.

For this reason, Bavaria sought new multilateral forms of cooperation with partners that were similar to it in terms of state quality, competencies and economic power after the turn of the millennium. This led, among other things, to the founding of the European-focused Regleg (since 2001) and the internationally active Regional Leaders Conference (since 2002).


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Alexander Wegmaier, European Working Communities, published 30 June 2015, english version published 23 June 2023, in: Historisches Lexikon Bayerns, URL: <http://www.historisches-lexikon-bayerns.de/Lexikon/EN:European_Working_Communities> (13.07.2024)