Brussels, 25 th February 2010
Developing the Danube Region: Commissioner Hahn draws strategy with partners
To improve environmental conditions and develop the huge economic potential of the region, Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Regional Policy, addresses today a conference in Budapest on the European Strategy for the Danube Region. Organised by the European Commission and the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this is the second in a series of consultation events. During his visit, Mr Hahn will hold talks with the Hungarian Prime Minister, Gordon Bajnai, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Péter Balázs, and Minister for National Development and Economy, István Varga, and also take part in the Danube Summit, organised by the Hungarian government in parallel to the stakeholder event. Other participants in this event include the Prime Ministers of Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldavia and the Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia.
Speaking ahead of the conference, Commissioner Hahn said: "It is clear that we all share a common aim – to improve the prosperity and quality of life for the 115 million people who live in the wider Danube Region. Today we get down to the business of discussing concrete projects that will deliver lasting results. I welcome in particular the high level of political representation. This demonstrates the commitment to find shared solutions to our shared challenges."
The Danube Region encompasses 14 countries (of which 8 are EU Member States) ranging from Germany in the West to the Ukraine in the East. Given the inter-linked nature of many of the challenges facing the region, cooperation within a 'macro-regional' framework is intended to produce more effective coordination. This approach - a new working method initiated with the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region - does not imply new laws or institutions but rather strengthens links between different policies and those of a wide range of stakeholders.
The conference is one of a series providing an opportunity for stakeholders to feed in views as the European Commission prepares to present a strategy for the region by the end of the year. In Budapest, four priority themes of the strategy will be discussed: economic development; sustainable development; culture, education and identity, and institutional development. Further themes will be covered by future conferences.
The Danube Region has huge economic, environmental and social potential. However, significant economic, social and infrastructure disparities which developed during the divided past of the region still persist today. Putting in place a strategy will help to eradicate this unequal legacy.
Other challenges to be addressed by t he strategy include the need to improve transport and energy connections, and reduce pollution. For instance, the Danube river basin hosts more than 300 species of birds, some very rare, and action is urgently needed to ensure their existence is not threatened by industrial and agricultural pollution. The network of inland waterways is also ripe for development with navigation on the Danube currently representing just 10% of that on the Rhine.
Hungary has already started contributing to the shape of the new strategy, pointing to the need to improve the quality of drinking water, to connect gas pipelines and electricity networks and to encourage coastal and port development.
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. The aim is to use this available support – € 100 billion alone has been allocated from the cohesion policy (European Regional Development Fund, Cohesion Fund, European Social Fund) between 2007 and 2013 – to greater effect and show how macro-regional cooperation can help tackle local problems.
The countries involved are those currently covered by the Danube Cooperation Process (of which eight are EU Member States): Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatia, the Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia and Ukraine.
Next steps : The consultation process on the Danube Strategy which formally opened with the first stakeholder conference in Ulm (Germany) at the start of February, will continue until early summer with further events planned for Austria and Slovakia (April), Bulgaria (May), Romania (June). As well as the stakeholder events, the European Commission is also inviting all interested parties to take part in the on-line public consultation which is open until 12 April 2010.
The Commission will propose an Action Plan and governance system in December 2010, scheduled for discussion and likely endorsement by Member States in early 2011.
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