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The ESPON 2013 Operational Programme
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Mountainous regions in Europe

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  • In the EU27, mountains cover nearly 28 per cent of the surface and aggregate 17 per cent of the population. These figures increase if we take into account the territory of the EU27+4. Here, the proportions for surface and population are 41,3 and 25,4 per cent, respectively
  • In general, mountain regions have no particular economic structure, but a significant number do have high residential attractiveness
  • Many mountainous regions are also characterised by relatively high levels of biodiversity and protected areas, including Nature 2000

Observations for policy

The analysis of mountainous regions suggests a wide range of relevant fields of intervention, including seasonal employment, investments in local small and medium scale renewable energy production, and specific measures to develop higher education. Additionally, it constitutes a window of opportunity to promote access to ICT and innovative methods of service provision.

Policy context

Mountainous regions or areas belong to the type of areas identified in article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and more recently on the Green Paper on Territorial Cohesion. In recent years these regions have received a wide range of attention from scholars, academics and researchers.

Map interpretation

The map discloses the delineation of mountain regions and the percentage of total areas covered by mountainous municipalities (LAU2). In the EU27, mountains cover nearly 28 per cent of the surface and aggregate 17 per cent of the population. These figures increase if we take into account the territory of the EU27+4. Here, the proportions for surface and population are 41,3 and 25,4 per cent, respectively.

Mountain areas are mainly to be found in Southern Europe, stretching from Spain to Turkey, but also in Northern Europe, including large parts of Iceland, Scotland and Norway.

In general, mountain regions have no particular economic structure, but a significant number do have high residential attractiveness. This is due to the environmental assets and very often to the social and cultural capital. Many mountain areas are also characterised by relatively high levels of biodiversity and protected areas.

Concepts and methods

According to EEA and DG Regio, the delineation of mountainous regions is based on altitude, terrain roughness and slope. The map is based on a set of grid cells with mountainous topography which was approximated to municipal boundaries (LAU2). Furthermore, it demonstrates the importance of using data at more detailed levels.


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