The European Danube Region Strategy gets on the drawing board
The European Danube Region Strategy should serve as a tool to better face and solve common challenges beyond national borders and to ensure that necessary funding is available.
The Danube serves as a unique bridge of cooperation between countries and peoples, which is especially needed in this current time of significant and rapid changes in political, societal and economic circumstances.
When Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, the Danube became an internal river of the EU. As one of the trans-European rivers it represents a significant cultural, social and economic link between ten countries bordering the Danube and nine more as part of its watershed. The Danube serves as a unique bridge of cooperation between countries and peoples, which is especially needed in this current time of significant and rapid changes in political, societal and economic circumstances. In addition, environmental issues demand greater cooperation to address the effects of climate change and the need for a sustainable use of all natural resources. A new European Danube Region Strategy building on the model of the Black Sea Strategy is being prepared to meet these challenges.
In June 2009, the European Council asked the European Commission to prepare a strategy for the Danube region by the end of 2010. This timeline would allow for adoption by the heads of state and government in the first half of 2011, under the Hungarian EU Presidency. The EU funding period starting in 2014 could then meet the special requirements and goals of the Strategy.
The European Danube Region Strategy will provide additional benefits to the basin. “Cooperation between relevant partners should become more focused and intense,” says Viktoria Varga-Lencses, desk officer at the Directorate General Regional Policy of the European Commission. “The visibility of the region, both at the national and European level, should be increased. The European Danube Region Strategy and new cooperation arrangements are relevant in the debate around the future of EU Cohesion Policy. Last but not least the Danube Region – as a European macro-region – could play a greater role in the negotiations of future, cooperation-related funds.”
Building on existing cooperation. Preparatory works have started in all countries and at all levels: among national ministries, regional institutions and local stakeholders. But the European Danube Region Strategy does not intend to duplicate previously existing successful cooperation, such as the Danube Commission on Transport, the ICPDR or the Working Community of the Danube Regions. “There is a need, nonetheless, to deepen and expand existing cooperation, and to create stronger links among these bodies, as well as with member states and regions,” stressed Danuta Hübner, former Commissioner for Regional Policy at the European Commission, at a conference at the end of June in Vienna.
The Strategy is also supported by the European Union’s Committee of the Regions. “To reach its full economic, social, environmental and cultural potential,” says Committee of the Regions spokesman Wolfgang Reinhart, “the Danube area should be viewed as a single transnational European area of development.”
Elements of the strategy. The core elements of the
European Danube Region Strategy are likely to be connectivity
(access to and from the Danube, including
transportation as well as energy connections), environment
(water quality, biodiversity, risk prevention and
management) and unlocking the potential (economic
development, education, culturetransport, environment
and economic development).
While Danube transport has a huge potential for increasing the amount of freight being moved on Europe’s inland waterways, prospects for the latter two elements are more modest. According to Hübner, “there is still too much pollution being pumped into the Danube”, and despite much discussion and planning, “there has been insufficient delivery of concrete results on the ground”.
Some stakeholder groups also raise concerns. “If the Strategy will not treat the protection of natural assets such as biodiversity and water as the basis of sustainable development of the Danube, it will not contribute to a flourishing region,” says Irene Lucius, Senior Policy Officer of the WWF International Danube Carpathian Programme. “Inland navigation, energy supply, agriculture and tourism must be developed in such a way that the resilience of nature and societies to the impacts of climate change is built in.”
The coming months will show if the principles of sustainable development will be reflected in the European Danube Region Strategy.
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