The upcoming European strategy for the future of the Danube river is to focus on transport, environment and economic development and will be drafted by the end of 2010, outgoing regional policy commissioner Danuta Hubner said on Monday (29 June).

Ms Hubner, who resigned last week in order to be able to take up her mandate as member of the European Parliament, is still in office until her successor, Pawel Samecki, is formally appointed as commissioner.

Speaking in Austria at a conference on the upcoming Danube strategy, Ms Hubner outlined the broad priorities and calendar of this initiative to include member states Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

EU candidate country Croatia, as well as potential candidate Serbia also shares part of the 2,816-kilometre-long river ending in the Black Sea at the border between Romania and the EU's eastern partners, Moldova and Ukraine.

On 19 June, EU leaders gathered at a summit in Brussels requested the European Commission prepare a strategy for the Danube region by the end of 2010. This would then be adopted by the heads of state and government in the first half of 2011, under Hungarian EU presidency. Budapest, as well as Vienna and Bucharest are some of the capitals strongly promoting the initiative.

As with the Baltic Sea strategy – the EU's first coordinated approach towards a so-called macro region, involving eight member states bordering the North Eastern sea – the Danube strategy is likely to include concrete measures and have certain member states take responsibility over the actual implementation.

The three main priorities likely to be at the core of the Danube strategy are transport, environment and economic development.

One of Europe's biggest waterways, the Danube has "huge potential for increasing the amount of freight being moved," Ms Hubner said, while stressing that this would require planned, coordinated work along the river.

As an example, she mentioned that the commission was currently working with Romanian and Bulgarian authorities on a joint project to improve navigation on their joint stretch of the river.

"Since there is not enough funding allocated to cross-border programmes, we have to try and co-ordinate two national projects. However, even once all this is organised correctly and the project is implemented, and it has improved navigation on the Romania-Bulgaria stretch of the river - we will still need to see how it fits with navigation improvement projects elsewhere on the river," she noted.

On environment, some of the downstream countries and regions face "major flooding problems" outside their control, as the causes and solutions both lie further upstream.

Polluted waters being spilled into the Danube upstream, as well as into tributary rivers such as Sava and Tisza, all end up in the Romanian Danube delta where the river splits into three branches before joining the Black Sea - a nature reserve with 1,600 endangered species such as pelicans.

Ms Hubner underlined the need to "move beyond 'guiding principles'" and to generate "concrete projects" that strike a balance between the transport and environmental aspects.

Economic development, particularly through partner cities and regions, would be the third element of the strategy.

Here too, "much discussion and planning" has already taken place, but with "insufficient delivery of concrete results on the ground," she said.

Some forms of co-operation along the river exist already, such as the Working Community of the Danube Regions, the Danube Commission on Transport Issues or the environmentally-oriented International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR).

"There is a need, nonetheless, to deepen and expand the existing co-operation, and to create stronger links among these bodies, as well as with member states and regions," Ms Hubner stresssed.


Source: (posted 30/06/2009)