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SPEECH/ 10/44

Johannes Hahn

Commissioner for Regional Policy

Optimising our Efforts for the Danube Region

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

Danube Summit

Budapest, 25 th February 2010

Your excellencies, Chancellor, Prime Mi nisters, ladies and gentlemen

As someone born and bred in this region, I very much appreciate the opportunity to address you this morning. Your presence at the Danube Summit, and earlier at the opening of the Second Stakeholder Conference on the preparation of the European Union Strategy for the Danube Region, demonstrates the importance of this joint endeavour, and your commitment to better cooperation in this region.

In just a very few minutes I would like to suggest answers to three questions:

• Why should there be a European Union Strategy for the Danube Region?

• What will be required of you and your governments if the strategy is to succeed?

• What is the future for this macro-regional approach?

Why develop a strategy? One reason is that many of you have asked for it, knowing that the challenges of the region cannot be solved by individual action. Such a strategy will not bring more money, but can help us optimise the use of the very significant sums already available, for the current period about 100 billion Euro.

I am at home in this region and I know its problems and its opportunities.

At the heart of our new strategy will be water itself. We all gain if the Danube is navigable, and the waterway is able to provide a transport artery from the Black Forest to the Black Sea – but we can only exploit its potential by working together.

The ecology of this region depends on the health of the river and its tributaries, and our success in tackling pollution. This will determine the quality of the legacy we leave to the next generation, and clearly, this too, will require our joint efforts.

But this region is not just about a waterway. Our countries bring together an extraordinary wealth of cultures and religions. These differences have sometimes led to conflict in the past. Tensions still exist, but today we could become a model of harmonious and productive coexistence. This strategy is an opportunity to take a step further in overcoming the barriers that national and regional frontiers sometimes create in our minds, to really make of this region a microcosm of what can be best about today's Europe.

And if we want a strong and prosperous future, we need a strategy to ensure that the talent and enterprise of our people flourishes throughout the region. Many of the great cities of the region lie on the Danube, including four capitals. They make the river a magnet for thinkers, innovators and entrepreneurs.

We need to consider – together - how we should address the development along the Danube. Are the communities that grow and merge along the river our best chance of success? Or do we need to do more to ensure the rest of region remains just as dynamic?

These are some of the reasons I believe that we should develop a common strategy for this, my home region.

Next: let me try to answer the question, what will be required of you, the national governments of the region? First – and this we know we can count on – we need your wholehearted support in identifying the broad strategy to be followed and detailed content to be included. The Stakeholder Conference taking place in the Academy of Sciences is making good progress on this as we speak.

Second, and this is indispensable, we ask you to put your best minds to work on resolving the many genuine issues that are thrown up by an integrated strategy. We all know there can be conflicts between, for example, environmental protection and better transport facilities – whether on land or water. We need you to join with us in broadening the discussion, to find perspectives that will allow us to find win-win solutions. We need your help to ensure there are no sacred cows, no preconceived positions allowed to stand in the way of progress.

Last, but far from least, we are asking for your commitment not just to reach an agreement on the strategy, but to make it work. The Commission cannot and will not implement any Macro-regional strategy. We do not have the manpower and more importantly we do not have the local knowledge and resources. As we are proving in the Baltic Sea Region, we will give every support to the stakeholders and partners who are moving from words to actions. But it is you, your administrations, your agencies, your regions that have to transform shared ambitions into facts we can celebrate.

I would like to close by saying a few words about where we go next. The concept of macro-regional strategies has become remarkably powerful in a very short time. This is, I think, because it brings European co operation down to a manageable size – free from administrative or national boundaries but not on such a grand scale that actors lose their sense of ownership. Others may wish to copy the example of this region. I look forward to working with all of you over the coming months to discover how much we can achieve through this new way of working.

Before the end of the year the Commission will bring forward a strategy based on your contributions, and I hope that we will see that strategy endorsed under the Hungarian presidency of the EU.

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