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Scientific support to the Danube Strategy

Commission Européenne - MEMO/13/441   16/05/2013

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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 16 May 2013

Scientific support to the Danube Strategy

The Danube Region covers parts of eight EU countries (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania) and six non-EU countries (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Ukraine and Moldova).

The region is facing several challenges, such as environmental threats, insufficient energy and transport connections, uneven socio-economic development, as well as shortcomings in safety and security. Better coordination and cooperation between the countries and key players are needed to address these challenges.

What is the link between the JRC's "scientific support" initiative and the EU Strategy for the Danube Region?

The European Council endorsed the EU Strategy for the Danube Region in June 2011, calling on all relevant actors to implement it without delay. The European Commission's in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), responded to this call of the Council by launching the 'Scientific Support to the Danube Strategy' initiative.

Out of the eleven priority areas identified in the Strategy, the JRC will contribute with its initiative to seven of them: waterways, energy, water quality, environmental risks, biodiversity, landscapes, quality of air and soils; knowledge society and ICT, and competitiveness.

What is the objective?

The JRC's Scientific Support initiative contributes to the implementation of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) in two different ways. Firstly, it addresses the scientific needs related to the implementation of the EUSDR and thereby helps decision-makers and other stakeholders to identify the policy needs and large-scale projects needed for the implementation of the Strategy. Secondly, it contributes to the reinforcement of ties and cooperation amongst the scientific community of the Danube Region.

What were the steps followed to launch the scientific support initiative?

During the first phase, the JRC launched the initiative and consulted the relevant stakeholders at scientific and political level. Cooperation agreements were set up with 9 Academies of Sciences in the Region and the Danube Rectors' Conference (representing 54 universities).

In a second phase, the JRC and the scientific partners identified a set of limited priorities: environment protection; irrigation and agricultural development; navigability; and energy production. These were presented at the first high-level meeting held in Brussels on 24 April 2012 (http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/jrc/index.cfm?id=3910&obj_id=4120&dt_code=EVN&lang=en&ori=HLN).

The third phase, which concludes with today's high-level event in Bratislava, corresponds to the identification and validation of the flagship clusters (http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/jrc/index.cfm?id=2470&obj_id=4480&dt_code=EVN&lang=en). This process involved scientific partners, who were identified following the consultation of the coordinators of the relevant priority areas in the EU Strategy, and the national contact points, as well as many other stakeholders. In March this year, more than 130 scientists from all over the Danube region gathered at the JRC site in Ispra to finalise the clusters' concept, which is being launched today in Bratislava in the presence of high-level political representatives.

Which organisations are currently involved?

Less than 2 years after its launch, the scientific support initiative is well known in the Danube region and many organisations have joined. It brings together universities, research organisations, public partners and national and regional governments. Key partners are for instance the Academies of Science, the Danube Rectors' Conference and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR).

What are the priorities of the scientific support initiative?

  • Environmental protection: The Danube Region and the Danube River are very rich in ecological terms. However, they are suffering from climate change which was one of the causes of major floods in the area. The degradation of biodiversity and deforestation are also key issues to tackle.

  • Irrigation and agricultural development: Tackling pressures on water caused by agriculture represents important challenges in Europe and in the Danube Region. There is a pressing need to develop models of integrated landscape management of the river basin and sustainable land use, balancing socio-economic development and the protection of nature. In the agriculture sector, more efficient and sustainable water saving irrigation techniques will have to be developed.

  • Navigability: The Danube River flows across Europe. It is a major inland waterway, but it is under-exploited. Navigation is a safe and environmentally friendly transportation mode, which should be promoted. Therefore, new and more sustainable waterway management policies should be developed.

  • Energy production: Energy is one of the key challenges faced by the Danube Region, which mainly suffers from the absence of a common energy market and from insufficient domestic energy production. The Region has, however, a huge natural potential to develop renewable energies, including bioenergy in the form of biomass or biogas.

In addition to these vertical priorities, the JRC initiative also addresses one transversal priority, focused on supporting better European governance.

What is the scope of the 6 scientific clusters launched today?

The water cluster will address the environmental and socio-economic consequences of changing agriculture-energy pressures on water. This requires a basin-wide perspective and cooperation with countries in the region, taking into account needs of all stakeholders. Allocation of available water across different sectors needs to be integrated into the overall economic strategy of the Danube Region, based on optimisation concepts in order to maximise growth and minimise the environmental impact.

The land and soil cluster will deal with the following issues: land and soil availability, quality and related risks, preservation and restoration of above- and below-ground ecosystems and biodiversity, harmonised data collection and monitoring and awareness raising and capacity building.

The air cluster will deal with air-related issues in the Region and especially, the assessment of air quality sources and the assessment of the impacts of air pollution on health.

The bioenergy cluster will address the challenges of energy production in the Danube Region while focusing on the development of bioenergy and its possible impacts on the agriculture sector and on the environment.

The reference data and service infrastructure cluster will offer a global view of various data covering a wide-range of areas (such as water and soil quality, population, landscapes…etc.) and will encompass the whole Danube Region. It will provide access to and exchange of quality-documented data and services for large scale projects which will form the key elements of the EU Danube Strategy implementation plan.

The smart specialisation cluster will use the Danube Region as a pilot area to study and foster the integration and coordination of regional or national research and innovation strategies for Smart Specialisation at macro-regional level. This approach can stimulate the constructive use of regional diversity by avoiding uniformity and duplication in regional investment goals as well as help develop critical mass to tackle major common challenges.

How will these clusters work?

Each cluster will have a JRC coordinator and will meet regularly to work according to well defined work packages. Relevant actors will be involved at different levels, according to their priorities and expertise. Participation remains open to other interested parties. Expected outputs and beneficiaries have been identified for each cluster (http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/jrc/index.cfm?id=2470&obj_id=4480&dt_code=EVN&lang=en).

On a yearly basis, results will be presented to the political representatives of the region, facilitating a better uptake of scientific results in policy-making.


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