The Danube Strategy, aimed at boosting the development of the Danube region, was proposed by the European Commission on 9 December 2010 and then given the final thumbs up this month, but the ten countries that are taking part are still trying to find the right forms of co-operation.
Last week following a meeting with Budapest mayor Istvan Tarlos, mayor of Bratislava Milan Ftacnik said he would like to see Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava co-ordinate their steps more in preparation for implementing the Strategy.
Ftacnik underlined the importance of the Strategy and of improving relations between the Slovak and Hungarian capitals, in particular, saying that to reap the full benefits of the programme cities had to know what the others were doing. The two mayors agreed to organise a Bratislava Week in Budapest and vice-versa.
Slovak foreign minister Mikulas Dzurinda joined his Austrian counterpart Michael Sindelegger to show their support for the Danube Strategy by taking a bike ride together from Berg in Austria, through Bratislava to Rajka in Hungary. They were supposed to be joined by Hungarian foreign minister Janos Martonyi, but he cancelled due to work commitments.
The Danube region that the strategy covers includes parts of 8 EU countries (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania) and 6 non-EU countries (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Ukraine and Moldova).
The region is facing several challenges:
- environmental threats (water pollution, floods, climate change)
- untapped shipping potential and lack of road and rail transport connections
- insufficient energy connections
- uneven socio-economic development
- uncoordinated education, research and innovation systems
- shortcomings in safety and security
Better coordination and cooperation between the countries and regions is needed to address these challenges, which is the main premise of the Danube Strategy.
The 115 million people living in the Danube Region will benefit from:
- faster transport by road and rail
- cleaner transport by improving the navigability of rivers
- cheaper and more secure energy thanks to better connections and alternative sources
- a better environment with cleaner water, protected biodiversity, and cross-border flood prevention
- a prosperous region, through working together on the economy, education, social inclusion, and research and innovation
- attractive tourist and cultural destinations, developed and marketed jointly
- a safer, well-governed region, thanks to better cooperation and coordination of government and non-governmental organisations
Although the strategy will not come with extra EU finance, a considerable amount of funding is already available to the region through a host of EU programmes. For instance, EUR 100 billion alone has been allocated from the cohesion policy (European Regional Development Fund, Cohesion Fund, European Social Fund) between 2007 and 2013. Moreover, 41 Territorial Cooperation programmes cover a geographical area including the Danube Region.
The aim is to use this available support to greater effect and show how macro-regional cooperation can help tackle local problems.