The European Forum Alpbach

Bridges vol. 41, October 2014 / Feature

By Hannes Richter

Each summer, a distinctive group of experts, thinkers, and scientists gathers in a small Tyrolean village to discuss their time’s most pressing issues. The European Forum Alpbach is an interdisciplinary conference for science, politics, business, and culture that is held annually in the Tyrolean village of Alpbach. Established in 1945, the Forum has taken place every August for some three weeks of seminars, symposiums, and debates. Its current president is Franz Fischler, a former EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as being the present Austrian Minister of Agriculture. 

Alpbach is attended by some 4,000 participants from over 75 countries and boasts around 750 speakers; these come from the fields of science, politics, economics, and culture, and consist of experienced experts as well as students. Famous participants in the past have included luminaries like Sir Karl Popper, Friedrich A. von Hayek, Ban Ki-moon, Jacques Delors, Indira Gandhi, and many more. Today, more than 30 active Alpbach alumni associations exist in 25 countries, creating an interdisciplinary platform for effective socio-political dialogue. Thus the Forum acts as an interactive and open think tank.

The participation of students and young scholars is of particular importance to the Forum, as this group embodies the critical spirit, intellectual courage, and open-mindedness that permeate Alpbach. Due to the Forum's influence, it has been nicknamed “village of thinkers.” And indeed, a Nobel laureate and former participant lies buried here – physicist Erwin Schrödinger, known to have developed several fundamental results in the field of quantum theory. The once quaint village used to have accommodations for just 110 guests; today Alpbach welcomes some 300,000 visitors per year.

Beyond its distinction as the host of the European Forum, Alpbach was also voted “Austria’s Most Beautiful Village” by a television contest, and once earned the distinction of having the purest air in all of Austria. In 1999, a new Alpbach Congress Center opened, combining modern architecture with a minimal environmental footprint and offering special mountain vistas from a spiral-shaped gallery with floor-to-ceiling glazing. The 2014 Forum Alpbach took place under the general theme “At the Crossroads,” dedicated to the fundamental questions of society.

According to President Fischler: “Two thousand fourteen is a year of commemorations for Europe: It marks the 200th anniversary of the Congress of Vienna, the 100th anniversary of the First World War, and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We use these events as an opportunity to initiate a future-oriented discourse that takes into account the lessons learned from our past. This summer, the European Forum Alpbach will draw a sketch of the decisions and possibilities before us and discuss ways to put them into practice.”

More details on the European Forum Alpbach and the 2014 program are available online at: www.alpbach.org 

Hannes Richter is the deputy head of the Austrian Press and Information Service Department at the Embassy of Austria in Washington, DC.