At the end of the Miocene, the European Alps ceased outward expansion, and tectonic uplift and exhumation shifted into the orogen interior. This shift is consistent with a change from orogenic construction to orogenic destruction, reflecting an increase in the ratio of erosional flux to accretionary flux. The coincidence of this change with an increase in sediment yield from the Alps suggests a climate-driven increase in erosional flux. The timing of deformation and sediment release from the southern Alps indicates that the tectonic change occurred synchronous with the last phase of the Messinian salinity crisis. We attribute the increase in erosional flux to a climatic shift to wetter conditions throughout Europe, likely augmented by the base-level fall that occurred during the Mediterranean dessication. This climate change is represented in the stratigraphic record by the Lago Mare deposits of the Mediterranean salinity crisis.