José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Working together to improve the Danube region
Bucharest, 8 November 2010
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to this meeting. It's a pleasure to be in Bucharest to discuss such an important issue with you.
The timing of this event could not be better. On 8 December the Commission will adopt a Communication and Action Plan for an EU Strategy for the Danube Region; These are two important documents to which all the countries concerned contributed. They will lay the foundations for much closer cooperation in your region.
I would especially like to thank Romania for taking the initiative, together with Austria, of a Strategy for the Danube Region. And I'd like to thank all the other countries for being fully committed to the development of this strategy. I hope this commitment can be maintained now that implementation of the strategy will start.
Back in June 2008, when I received a letter from the Romanian Prime Minister and the Austrian Chancellor proposing to take into account the Danube in a more systematic manner in EU policies, my reaction was immediately positive.
The opportunities opened up by this approach are immense. The Danube flows from the Black Forest to the Black Sea through 10 countries, 8 of them EU Member States. It covers 20% of EU territory in its 3000 km journey to the sea, serving a population of more than 115 million people. However its basin goes beyond even that, and stretches to four more countries which are also concerned by this Strategy.
It is a region full of history which has witnessed many changes in the last 20 years, both on the political and economic scene. There has been major progress since the beginning of the 90s, but there are still considerable disparities in the region, between Member States but also between Member States and the other countries concerned.
The challenge that lays ahead of us is to speed up the process of overcoming these disparities. In this context, the EU Strategy for the Danube Region is an innovation in terms of policy making. It creates a stable partnership between all the countries which share a common territory and common issues, be they Member States of the European Union or not.
In particular, the EU Strategy for the Danube Region will be an opportunity for:
Member States to speed up the benefits of integration. This includes the reduction of disparities which are still considerable, and making better use of structural funds. For non-Member States, it is an opportunity to create closer and more direct links with the EU;
It is an opportunity for all countries involved to have direct contacts, to cooperate and prepare their future together, through a political commitment;
It is an opportunity to find compromises to issues of common interest. Because the strategy covers a wide range of policy fields, we can extend the ‘topics for negotiation’ and create room for balance between different national interests. [In this respect, I very much welcome the signature tomorrow of the Border Treaty between Romania and Moldova. This is an excellent example of what can be achieved when there's a mutual interest.]
We now have an opportunity to create a common vision, and it is our duty to make sure that this vision translates into a sustainable, prosperous future for the entire Danube region.
From the very beginning, preparation of the strategy has created real momentum among political leaders and civil society in the region. We should build on this momentum and increase our ambition for the Danube region.
Let me now give you a flavour of what will be in the Action Plan. It will build on four main axes:
Firstly, mobility and inter-modality. In the field of transport, there is a need for investment – in particular in navigability, interconnections and intermodal ports. Railways still require considerable improvement and there is room for better air connections, too. We need to explore new technologies especially, to make the Danube River a green waterway, and to speed up efforts to tackle bottlenecks which impede the free flow of shipping. 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.
Sustainable and secure energy is also an objective of the Action Plan, which can provide the means for increased interconnections for gas and electricity between the countries of the region.
Tourism is one of the fields in which the Danube region has great potential. It is blessed with many cultural and historical landmarks and impressive natural habitats like the Danube delta. The EU Strategy for the Danube Region is a key tool for unlocking this potential.
A second key element is the environment. The waters of the Danube are no longer as blue as Franz von Gernerth suggested in Strauss’s waltz. Pollution is a problem and a threat to wildlife. 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. On the contrary, it is a crucial element in developing sustainable growth.
It is important to make the strategy a tool that supports the implementation of action already agreed, such as the River Basin Management Plan. But it should also be a tool that promotes new action, bringing added value to activities carried out by individual countries.
A third key element of the Action Plan is the economy. We need to explore the close ties between these countries to foster an innovation-friendly environment, focusing on education and research, and backed by entrepreneurship. We need risk capital and business support services.
Economies of scale in the region and synergies between the industrial and productive fabric of each country should be explored.
A final element of the Action Plan I want to talk about today is security and 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. This in turn would help raise the competitiveness of the region. It would facilitate local and regional cooperation between administrations, which would bring about the exchange of knowledge and information. The Danube Strategy will support improvements in cooperation in the domain of police work, justice and home affairs as well as customs cooperation.
As you can see, all these fields are strongly interconnected, which is why effective action can only take place through stronger cooperation among yourselves. Only in this way can you achieve the goals you have set for yourselves and implement the strategy successfully.
To implement all this, €95 billion is being made available for the Danube area. This can also be complemented by grants and loans from the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
As you all know, next year will be a critical one. Not only are we launching the EU Strategy for the Danube Region - symbolically while Hungary has the Presidency of the Council - we are also laying the foundations for the future cohesion policy in the context of the budget review.
As we enter this period of reforms, I would like to call on you to make full use of territorial cooperation as a particularly useful tool to encourage transnational cooperation and integration.
The Commission is committed to helping you make a success of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region. I believe that in a few years this initiative will improve mobility, biodiversity, water quality, flood protection, research and innovation and security. As it covers such a large part of the EU, it is also one of the best ways to help deliver the priorities of our Europe 2020 strategy.
But success is not in the hands of the Commission alone. It is in the hands of all of you, the countries, and the stakeholders of this region.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I very much appreciated this opportunity to address you today. Your presence at this Danube Summit demonstrates not just the importance of this joint endeavour, but also your commitment to better cooperation in this region.
I look forward to discovering over the coming years just how much we can achieve through this new way of working, and I look forward to making this exciting challenge a success.