EU Danube Strategy to promote basin-wide development | WWF
EU Danube Strategy to promote basin-wide development

Posted on 05 March 2010

The EU’s initiative to develop a Danube Strategy can help bring together and implement existing policies and legislation to achieve a "green economy" in the Danube basin.
WWF welcomes the EU’s initiative to develop a Danube Strategy, which can help bring together and implement existing policies and legislation to achieve long-term sustainable development across the Danube basin.

Development of the Strategy comes at a time when the Danube region faces a series of unprecedented crises: financial, economic and -- even more ominously -- from climate change and loss of biodiversity and related ecosystem services.

"The EU Danube Strategy presents an opportunity for the countries of the Danube region to get ahead of the development curve -- to pull themselves together and put themselves on a path toward a long-term and prosperous future, including a green, carbon-free and resource-efficient economy," said Andreas Beckmann, director of the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.

Baltic inspiration

The initiative has been inspired by the Baltic Strategy, which was officially adopted last year and is now focusing efforts of Baltic countries from Sweden to Estonia to address issues including marine pollution and transportation.

A five-month public consultation process for the Danube Strategy got under way on February 2 with a kick-off conference that took place in Ulm in Germany. Follow-up events are planned to take place through June in Budapest, Vienna, Ruse (Bulgaria) and Constanta (Romania), providing input for a draft to be developed by the European Commission in the summer that is expected to be officially adopted under the Hungarian EU Presidency in spring 2011.

WWF has published a discussion paper (see download to the right) related to the Danube Strategy; an official position will follow in early April.

European Commission officials have been clear that the Strategy will bring no new funding, no new legislation and no new institutions – i.e. it can thus only focus and coordinate efforts on issues of common interest to countries in the Danube basin. Nevertheless, the Strategy can influence the allocation of existing funds, and shape priorities for the EU’s next financial period, 2014-21.

Danube basin

The Danube is the most international river basin in the world, including all or parts of the territories of 19 countries and home to some 83 million people. The region includes some of the economically poorest and richest countries in Europe, as well as a major portion of the continent's natural wealth.

The key challenge and opportunity for the future of the Danube basin is to find ways to enhance livelihoods while preserving and even enhancing the ecosystems that provide essential goods and services for people and nature – and addressing through this significant differences in socioeconomic development between countries such as Austria and Germany on the one hand, and Bulgaria and Romania on the other.

The EU and Danube countries already have most if not all of the tools they need to achieve this objective, from progressive legislation such as the EU Water Framework Directive to funding programmes that in theory can provide financing for investments in a green economy, including investments in e.g. wetland restoration or nature conservation.

The problem in most cases has been putting what is required or possible on paper into actual practice. The Danube Strategy may help in focusing and integrating efforts to implement relevant policies, both across sectors and national borders, and including with those Danube countries like Ukraine or Serbia that are not presently members of the Union. It can also help address specific environmental challenges, including nutrient pollution, e.g. from agriculture and household detergents; networking protected areas; or promoting energy efficiency.

In addition, the Strategy can also complement and build on existing initiatives and achievements, including the Carpathian Convention and the recently adopted Danube River Basin Management Plan – the first comprehensive, cross-sectoral plan for the region, which has been developed and adopted by all countries in the Danube river basin, including both EU and non-EU member states.

Déjà vu?

But the Danube Strategy may have gotten off on the wrong foot in terms of addressing the key challenge of integrating environment and development.

In its current form, the Strategy envisions three pillars, including environment, socio-economic development and connectivity, especially related to transport and energy. The approach risks repeating the present major challenge of treating the issues separately and in isolation -- an approach that has many efforts working at cross-purposes, e.g. on the lower Danube, where current approaches to developing navigation risk unnecessarily cutting sturgeon migration routes, possibly pushing the ancient Danube species to extinction.

Interventions planned through the Danube Strategy must maintain and enhance the region's natural and social capital as the foundations for long-term development in the region.

"The unprecedented crises that we are facing are ample proof that business as usual is simply not an option", Beckmann said. "We need a paradigm shift, and with a bit of imagination and courage, the Danube Strategy can provide this by painting and helping to realise a bold and long-term vision for sustainable development in the region."

Irene Lucius, Senior Policy Coordinator, WWF-DCPO

Wind mill -- near Vienna, Austria
© Andreas Beckmann, 2007
The Danube River Basin and Carpathian Mountains are globally important ecoregions that cover all or part of the territory of 18 countries.
Some of the visitors to the Lower Danube fair came in their traditional dress.
© Andreas Beckmann, 2008