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Aosta Valley

The many facets of an Alpine area

The Aosta Valley, with one hundred and twenty thousand inhabitants and an area of 3262 km?, is the smallest region in Italy. Bordering Switzerland to the north, Piedmont to the south and the east, and France to the west, it is completely and truly mountainous, and lies in an area surrounded by Europe?s highest peaks ? Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa and the Gran Paradiso.

The capital of the region?s 74 municipal areas and eight mountain authorities is Aosta, a city of 35,000 inhabitants, situated at the very centre of the Valley, at a strategic point for communications routes. Aosta, founded by the Romans in 25 BC, has a rich and important historic and artistic heritage that represents a valuable testimony of the past, from remains of the earliest Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements to the impressive masterpieces of the Roman period, as well as sacred and Romanesque art from the Middle Ages. 

Due to its particular geographic position on the border of France and Switzerland, the Aosta Valley has always been seen as a linguistic and cultural crossroads. Indeed, its linguistic, cultural, historical and traditional heritage derives from its unique position as ?carrefour? between the various French, Italian and German cultures. In addition to the Region?s two official languages - Italian and French - there is also a German-speaking area situated in the Valle del Lys.

History and autonomy

Inhabited from the earliest times, the Aosta Valley was the subject of particular attention by the Romans during the campaigns of expansion towards Gallia and Elvezia over the course of the 2nd and 1st Centuries BC. The Roman occupation led to the domination of the Salassi tribes, the foundation of the colony of Augusta Praetoria (present day Aosta) and the construction of roads up to the Great and Little St Bernard passes, which had been travelled in earlier times.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Aosta Valley became the scene of conflict between Goths and Burgunds, Lombards and Franks. From the 11th Century, it passed under the rule of the counts of Savoy, who were to influence the future of the Valley until almost the present day. In 1191, Count Tommaso I of Savoy granted the inhabitants a Charter of Freedom, the first seed of Aosta?s own particular brand of institutional system on which the subsequent Pays d?Aoste was developed. It was under the House of Savoy that the long tradition of autonomy was to be forged ? a tradition which the people of Aosta Valley have defended and promoted over the centuries. In 1536, the Conseil de Commis was created out of a clear political determination by the area to resist the invasion of the king of France and the spread of Protestantism. The Conseil des Commis, the first experience in the Aosta Valley of self-government through political, administrative and judicial power, was to mark the destiny of the region until the 18th Century.

The Aosta Valley was occupied by revolutionary troops in 1796 and incorporated into the French Republic in 1798. From 1804 to 1814 it formed part of the Napoleonic Empire. With the Congress of Vienna and the restoration of the Savoy monarchy, the Region returned to form part of the reconstituted Kingdom of Sardinia. This was transformed into the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 with the annexation of most of the Italian peninsula and the loss of Nice and Savoy, which became part of France. The construction of the Italian state gave rise to political and cultural problems for the Aosta Valley, due to its peculiarities. These became further aggravated during the Fascist period. The dictatorship sought in every way to remove the cultural peculiarities and political prerogatives of the Aosta Valley, trampling upon the system of local self-government in the name of a centralisation of state powers. The Resistance movement in the Valley was therefore intimately bound up with values of autonomy as well as liberty. The partisans also fought a political battle in the name of Aosta Valley particularism. In 1945, with the liberation of Nazi Fascism, the Aosta Valley obtained a special form of political as well as administrative autonomy from the Italian state, which was sanctioned by the constitutional law of 26 February 1948.

Languages and institutions

This Special Constitution, though imperfect and incomplete, marked an important moment in recognising the cultural identity and reaffirming the political nature of the Aosta Valley and has contributed substantially in the economic and social development of the community, enabling the region to be put forward as a model and experimental mechanism for the principle of autonomy and self-government.

From the linguistic point of view, various languages co-exist both from the official as well as the informal point of view. The Special Constitution of the Region has confirmed the parity of the French and Italian languages. Furthermore, there is a German speaking Walser minority which, thanks to a 1993 amendment to the special Constitution, has been able to adopt the teaching of the German language in its schools. Along side these constitutionally recognised languages, there is Franco-Provencal, the actual language of the Aosta Valley people. This belongs to a group of Gallic Roman linguistic varieties that includes French and Occitan. By reason of the official nature of French and Italian, the school system is built on the principle of bilingual teaching in all of the schools, at every level, beginning with primary school and continuing up to school leaving age.

The Regional Council consists of 35 councillors and is elected according to the proportional representation system, with a cut-off point of around 5.5% of votes validly cast.

The assembly body has wide legislative power which is exclusive as well as concurrent with those of the State, as set out in the Special Constitution and by the Italian Constitution. From its very first sitting, the Valley Council is called upon to elect, in addition to its own President, also the Regional President and, on his or her recommendation, the Committee leaders. The Aosta Valley Regional President is the only President in Italy to be head of the prefecture and has responsibility for coordinating public security.

The activity of the institutions is carried out thanks to a real and substantial economic autonomy. This has been strengthened since 1981 by way of a mechanism by which nine-tenths of direct and indirect taxes paid in the Aosta Valley are paid into regional funds. Along with this important flow of financial resources is the transfer of numerous administrative functions which, elsewhere, are exercised by the State. These include, for example, civil defence, the fire brigade, the funding of regional social and health services as well as the educational system which, from its very beginning was managed directly by the Regional authority.

Insofar as the representation of the Aosta Valley in the Italian Parliament, the Region, on the basis of the Special Constitution, forms its own electoral area for the election of members of the Chamber of Deputies as well as the Senate. For elections to the European Parliament, the Aosta Valley is included in the electoral area of North-West Italy, with the possibility of including lists presented by the ?French language minority in the Aosta Valley? with others in the same electoral area.

The system of local autonomy in the Aosta Valley is governed by a regional law of 1998 which has introduced a complete re-organisation of the Region. Inspired by Federalism, which is based on the principle of subsidiarity, participation and solidarity, this law identifies the municipal authority as the fundamental level of government, giving it administrative and management functions. The mountain authority is placed at intermediate level for the organisation of services that are delegated to it by municipal authorities. The Region is the point of reference for the system of local autonomy, with powers in relation to legislation, planning and coordination of activities in order to assure unity.

The Aosta Valley, given its geographical position and its history, has territorial links that go much further than those boundaries marked by state frontiers, showing a strong interest in opening dialogue with communities with whom it shares a common language and culture. The Regional Authority has a strong relationship of collaboration with the French departments of Savoie and Haute Savoie and with the Swiss canton of Vallese, as well as with the Communaut? fran?aise de Belgique et il Cantone del Jura in Switzerland. It has also developed relations with the province of Zhejjang (China) and with the Voivodato of Warmia and Masuria (Poland). The Region takes part in international multi-lateral French-speaking bodies, in particular as special envoy at the special summit of heads of state and government of countries sharing the French language, and is a member of the International Association of French-speaking Regions. Finally, within the European Union, the Aosta Valley has promoted important activities as part of the Interreg Community Programme.

Society and economy

The financial reliability of the Aosta Valley System has been recognised by Standard and Poor?s with a quotation of AA-. The rating reflects the moderate debt of the Region, its good budget results, its diversification of sources of income and its economic strength. So far as business in the Aosta Valley is concerned, the overall picture shows a continual growth.  The number of active businesses, excluding the agricultural sector, has exceeded the 10,000 level and has increased by almost 27% in nine years, with a constant strengthening of the capital component of the businesses and with one business in operation for every 12 inhabitants (once again excluding agriculture) ? a figure that is unequalled over the national area.

Industry

The weight of industry in the regional economy has to be assessed under various aspects. From the ?historic? point of view it should be noted that this sector has re-established a leading role with the re-industrialisation of areas that had been abandoned. In the Valley today, there are industries that operate in various fields, from high technology to components, from the mechanical industry to plastics, from textiles to graphics or food products.

Industry in the Aosta Valley employs over 13,000 workers. A large proportion of this is the building sector, which counts for almost 50% of the overall figure. Over 300 businesses in the Aosta Valley are registered and active in the manufacturing sector, 15 in the ?energy? sector and over 460 in the building sector (figures that obviously exclude craft businesses).

Industry in the Aosta Valley provides approximately 23% of income per capita (totalling 26,000 Euro per inhabitant).

The presence of foreign capital is significant, with the Dutch and French in the food industry, the Dutch and Americans in the components industry, Luxembourg, French, German and American companies in the electronics sector and, once again, the French in the leisure industry.

Energy

The new production of electrical energy in Aosta Valley is estimated by the Management of the National Transmission Network (GRTN S.p.a.) for 2004, in relation to the main hydroelectric plants (55) in operation over the regional territory, to have been 2,810 GWh.

Against this net production, in the same year the consumption was 956.5 GWh, of which 462.2 for industrial use, 302.4 for the service sector, 187.1 for domestic use and 4.8 for agriculture.

Water as a source of power has reached a level of exploitation that is more or less complete. However, as part of the strategic objectives indicated by the Regional Energy Plan in 1998, the new Environmental Energy Plan approved by the Regional Council in 2003 has identified seven plants that are economically viable and potentially feasible for the use of remaining hydroelectric resources. The output from these has been estimated at around 44 GWh/year, installable power of around 12 MW.   In addition, it should be pointed out that the Regional administration has acquired a shareholding in companies owned by ENEL that operate in the generation sector (100%) and electrical energy distribution (49%), pursuant to agreements signed on 19 April 2000 between the Region and ENEL itself.

Tourism

Tourism is the main production sector in the region. The importance of this sector dates back to the end of the 1700s when the Aosta Valley began to become known for its thermal baths and for the beauty of its mountains.  Tourism today, which constitutes over 16.4% of the GNP, blends together tradition and innovation. On the one hand, the crafts and traditions of the past are maintained and re-appraised, while on the other hand investment is being carried out to provide tourists with structures and services that are comfortable and efficient.

Tourism figures show over 825,000 arrivals and around 3,200,000 days of accommodation a year, without counting figures for those staying in apartments or second houses. Around 13,000 are employed in the sector, of which 6,000 are permanent staff and 7,000 seasonal workers. In addition, there are 1,200 ski instructors, 185 alpine guides, 34 tour guides, 11 tour assistants, 131 nature tour guides and 57 equestrian tour assistants, providing services for winter and summer tourists.

Accommodation

-       487 hotels with 23,500 beds

-      48 camp sites with capacity for around 16,000 guests

-      52 alpine refuges

-      57 alpine huts

-     84 holiday houses with 3,800 beds

-      1000 bars and restaurants 

Ski facilities

-      181 cable cars

-      867 km of downhill slopes

-      388 km of cross country ski runs

-      247 km of runs equipped with snowmaking equipment

-      a single ski-pass for all ski lifts in the region

Agriculture

There are around 3,000 farming businesses in operation in the Valley with a gross production of almost 65 million Euro per year.

Economic size, along with safeguarding and conserving the natural environment, are fundamental factors characterising agriculture in the Aosta Valley. In addition, traditional produce derived from agriculture, along with quality guarantees from the various sectors, provides an additional attraction for the tourist sector.

The co-operative system offers the most economic and rational solutions for reducing production costs. The dairy sector, which represents a central support for the Aosta Valley economy, is organised into food processing establishments (for cheese and milk) which collect the milk from the various farms that are spread around the various areas of the Valley.

Viticulture has now, for several years, followed a policy of constant quality improvement, reaching excellent results. Aosta Valley wine has a single Denominazione d?Origine Controllata (DOC Vall?e d?Aoste) which is given to various kinds of grape and is being increasingly appreciated by the market.

Other extremely interesting areas of innovation for the new generation are organic farming and agritourism. These sectors are in the process of development and will certainly be essential factors in the future for the regional agricultural economy.

Tradition and innovation

Traditional crafts

The craft tradition is deeply rooted in the history of our valleys. Today, it has become an art that is able to express an aesthetic language which goes well beyond our mountains. The true Aosta talent for craft activities (wood working, lace making and wrought iron) originates out of the age-old need to produce objects for everyday life, using raw materials that are available in that area. Today, the craft sector is an important means of attracting tourism as well as encouraging regional investment in production. Over a thousand people work exclusively in this sector.

The thousand year old Saint Orso Fair, originally created as a winter market for the valley folk, is a real showcase for the artistic and craft production of the Valle d?Aosta. It takes place every year on the 30th and 31st January, together with an additional summer event, held in mid-August. But there are a large number of other fairs in many other Valley areas.

Mountain and technology

The Region has developed a policy of stemming depopulation in rural areas, thanks also to investments being made in the field of technology, with a clear operative plan that launches not only a technological but also a cultural challenge.

The Partout agreement, signed in 2005 by representatives of public administrations in the region, aims to extend the regional broad band network for public administration (RUPAR) to all public authorities operating in the Aosta Valley. The objective is to create a network of sharing and coordination in which everyone participates in order to guarantee that all inhabitants of the Aosta Valley have equal access to information and the possibility of interacting with the institutions.

In order to achieve this objective it has also been decided to develop terrestrial digital communications in order to enable those who are less familiar with Internet to have access to public administration by remote control. In April 2005 an outline agreement was reached between the Aosta Regional Authority and the Ministry of Communications for establishing the transition to terrestrial digital television.

University

The establishment of the Universit? della Valle d?Aosta - Universit? de la Vall?e d?Aoste in 2000 was an historic moment for our region, both from the point of view of providing training for students as well as for providing technical and scientific support for public and private bodies operating in the Aosta Valley through the organisation of seminars and conferences on arguments of local, national and international interest.

The University of Valle d?Aosta is a European university which offers study courses with the additional support of Italian and European lecturers. In addition, the course provides for students to attend universities in other countries, with the additional purpose of providing them with a double qualification that can be used in other employment markets.

The first courses to be established were those relating to the educational sciences and specialisation courses for secondary school teachers, with the intention of training teachers who were fully adapted to the bilingual system in the Aosta Valley, and therefore able to educate new generations to follow the Aosta Valley tradition. Degree courses were then set up in the economic and business management sciences, in psychological sciences and techniques relating to assistance and in languages and communication for the territorial area, business and tourism (in conjunction with the Universit? de Savoie). For the academic year 2005/2006 the University is offering a new three year degree course in political sciences and international relations and a specialist degree course in psychology.

AOSTA VALLEY AUTONOMOUS REGIONAL AUTHORITY

Regional Presidency

Communications Department

Piazza Deffeyes, 1 | I - 11100 Aosta

Tel. 0165.273200 ? fax 0165.273402

u-stampa@regione.vda.it

www.regione.vda.it