The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has revealed the main priorities of an EU Action Plan for the Danube region. The plan is due to be adopted in December as part of a long-term strategy that will involve eight member states and six other countries.
Barroso has described for the first time the main elements of the EU's Strategy for the Danube macro-region, which is set to be formally adopted by the college of commissioners on 8 December.
"I believe that in a few years this initiative will improve mobility, biodiversity, water quality, flood protection, research and innovation and security," said the Commission president.
Barroso was speaking at a major summit in Bucharest this week (8 November), hosted by Romanian President Traian Bãsescu and Prime Minister Emil Boc and attended by more than 20 heads of government and high-level politicians from across South-East Europe.
"We now have an opportunity to create a common vision," said Barroso. "It is our duty to make sure that this vision translates into a sustainable, prosperous future for the entire Danube region."
The Commission president sketched out the four main axes of the Action Plan, which is designed to deepen cooperation among 14 countries in central and south-east Europe, including eight EU member states and six other countries (see 'Background').
The Action Plan for the Danube Region has been developed by the European Commission's DG for Regional Policy, based on consultations with all the countries concerned, and also taking into account the views of relevant stakeholders including regional and local governments, civil society organisations, and other international bodies.
Four main fields of cooperation
The first main axis of cooperation concerns transport and energy infrastructure, mobility and tourism. Attention will be paid to improving railway connections, developing cross-border networks for gas and electricity, and expanding tourism throughout the region.
One of the key aims is to develop the use of the Danube River as a corridor for freight transport and increase the volume of shipping as a way to promote trade.
According to Barroso, "Danube navigation represents only 10% that of the Rhine, so there is much room to make a more optimal use of the river as an inland waterway."
The second field of cooperation relates to improving the quality of the environment. The Commission president noted that the image of the 'Blue Danube' no longer corresponds with reality.
"If we look at the devastating floods in recent years, at the dramatic decrease of fish populations, at the waste water and the nutrient pollution caused by farming, we realise that tackling environmental problems is not a luxury," said Barroso.
The third axis is economic development. Barroso declared that the Action Plan will help the countries of the region "to foster an innovation-friendly environment, focusing on education and research, and backed by entrepreneurship".
Finally, the Action Plan will also focus on improving security and promoting the free movement of persons and goods. "Better structures, better training and closer coordination are key measures which would help make the movement of people and goods easier," said Barroso.
"The Danube Strategy will support improvements in cooperation in the domain of police work, justice and home affairs as well as customs cooperation," promised the Commission chief.
As is also the case for the Baltic Strategy, the Danube Strategy will not have a specific budget. Rather, it will aim to facilitate the planning and coordination of national and European investments (including EU regional policy) throughout the region.