In the corridors of the (future) Mountain Parliament

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Part of the audience at the preliminary meeting


I was in Quillan (Aude) earlier this week, for a meeting on the future of our mountains. Following a major reorganisation, the new region of Occitanie (articulated around the two metropoles of Toulouse and Montpellier) has decided to create a Mountain Parliament.

The idea is to give stakeholders a voice. According to Carole Delga, the region’s president: “The aim is to encourage communication and the emergence of new ideas so that regional policies can be adapted to the needs of the whole population.”

And mountains are a significant part of the new region:

  • 55% of the surface area
  • 20% of the population, ie 1.13 million inhabitants
  • 47% of the communes, ie 2153 in total

The region had previously organised seven meetings and an Internet forum which had harvested no less than 5000 propositions (although some were duplicates, of course)!  These had been winnowed down so that at the start of the previous meeting in September only twenty-four were left. By the end of the day only five actions remained. The region sees the future Parliament as a “think tank”.

So the meeting at Quillan was merely to inform the stakeholders of the five winners, the five other projects which needed more work and a further four propositions which would be considered in 2019.

Mountain, which mountain?

This Occitan ‘mountain’ is a very strange shape. In fact there are two distinct areas: the Massif Central and the Pyrenees. This doesn’t really worry me. After all, they share many of the same issues.


Mountains in Occitanie [source region]

Mountains in Occitanie [source region]

But what does worry me is the fact that the ‘Occitan’ part of these mountains is only a small part of the each massif, around a quarter in each case. It is clear that the Occitanie Region cannot make decisions about what happens in other regions and indeed in other countries, but there seemed to be little acknowledgement in Quillan that the mountains extended beyond the administrative boundaries.


Goiat bear being released in the Pyrenees, 2016

Goiat bear being released in the Pyrenees, 2016


A single example is enough to show of the importance of a wider perspective. It is quite clear that the wild animals living in the Pyrenees do not recognise the international frontier. Although the brown bear Goiat, was released in Spain in 2016 he has since spent much of his time dining in France, where he seems to have acquired a taste for horsemeat.  Les controversially, the reintroduction of the ibex into the French Pyrenees is one of the consequences of the Pyrenean Biodiversity Strategy signed by France, Andorra and Spain.


Ibex in Ariège [source Jordi Estèbe, PNR Ariège]

Ibex in Ariège [source Jordi Estèbe, PNR Ariège]

Although no one was talking about the Pyrenees outside Occitanie, one participant talked about other massifs. Charles Pujos is the Commissar for the Pyrenees, the central government’s representative here.  He noted that:

“One might question the economic model of the Pyrenean ski resorts. Holiday homes make up more than 80% of the total, which means that the income from letting them doesn’t stay in the mountains. In Italy and elsewhere in Europe people are more oriented towards guest houses run by locals.”

He continued with the alarming statistic that:

“In the Savoie [Alps] tourist beds are disappearing at a rate of 2-3% per year.”

Another participant suggested that we have things to learn from developing countries.

Let’s broaden our horizons! And encourage people from beyond the artificial borders of Occitanie to participate.


Thankfully the organisers had thought to organise a buffet lunch for the participants as most of us came from some distance. Whilst nibbling I took the opportunity to talk to some of those other people who, like me, seemed to be on their own. For them, as for me, it was the first time they had participated.

They were a diverse segment of the population:

  • A hot air balloon pilot from Font-Romeu (Pyrénées-Orientales)
  • A couple from Albi (Tarn) who have a holiday house near Auzat (Ariège)
  • A German artist from the Mas d’Azil (Ariège)
  • A legal advisor from Toulouse who had worked for many winters in the Ax Trois Domaines (Ariège) ski resort
  • A canyoning professional from Luchon (Haute-Garonne)
  • A vet and his wife from the Gers, whose main interest is bears

Diverse, yes, but only to a certain extent and large segments of the mountain population were absent. I was unsurprised by the exclusively white faces.* But only 10% were women. Thankfully Aurélie Maillols was there to improve the balance – she is the regional vice-president with special responsibility of mountains and the countryside. She organised the event and was one of the main speakers. But what about young people? Looking around I could see hardly anyone under forty. Mme Maillols and her colleague Romain Pagnoux were notably young.

This diversity audit isn’t meant as a criticism. This kind of meeting never attracts youngsters. On the other hand, as my sample shows, the audience wasn’t only professionals and politicians. And I am really pleased to report that the projects selected are aimed at a wide sector of the population.

Prospects for 2018

If everything goes according to plan, the region will approve the creation of the Parliament and its budget on 21 December 2017.

From that moment on, anyone can join in, as long as they promise to adhere to the charter. And then the real work starts. Very few face-to-face meetings but extensive use of the possibilities of the Internet. So far 384 stakeholders have volunteered.


Refuge d’Esbintz (Ariège)

Refuge d’Esbintz (Ariège)


This is what is in store:

Work on precise subjects to be developed in project groups

  • Help with the implementation of public/private initiatives
  • Develop the hedonistic aspects of the economy
  • Help seasonal employees to find work all year round by developing combined training for two separate activities (in the context of several employers grouped together)
  • Work on improving the acceptability of green energy projects in the mountains
  • Communicate about the Mountain Parliament at events and by organising a mountain festival

Work on future projects, to be discussed by the whole parliament

  • The place of young people in the mountains
  • Developing the synergy between different sectors to give them added value
  • The economic model of small resorts
  • Water in the mountains
  • Organisational support for independent entrepreneurs who have several different activities

Work on soliciting contributions towards defining future projects (aiming at 2019)

  • Developing and promoting wood and forestry
  • Indentifying and promoting assets
  • Intermodal connections
  • Mountain agriculture and the renegotiation of the CAP

[source: slide shown at the meeting]

Before the end of the year there will be another important meeting in the area, the États Généraux du Pastoralisme [Convention on Pastoralism] which will take place in Foix on Saturday 9 December.

*This is a subject worth investigating. Why is the ethnically diverse metropolitan population so under-represented in the mountains, in terms of inhabitants but above all in terms of visitors?

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