In mid-May the European Commission has made one more step towards the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) implementation. In order to bring contribution to the economic development of the region, six scientific clusters have been initiated, focusing on: the Danube water nexus; land and soil nexus; air nexus; bio-energy nexus; the Danube reference data and service infrastructure (DRDSI); and the support to research and innovation strategies for smart specialisation in the Danube region.
These clusters’ purpose is to bring together the scientific community from all 14 riverain states (eight EU-member states: Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, (Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria lands), Romania, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Hungary – Croatia, and the six non-EU member states: Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia and Ukraine). More precisely, this means cooperation between nine scientific academies in the region, the Danube Rectors’ Conference (representing 54 universities) and other scientific organizations. Each of these has the right to choose the cluster or clusters they want to get involved in according to their research area, priorities and interests.
The final goal is to establish a favourable framework for cooperation between national scientific communities and policy makers that leads to policy-making starting from a scientific base on a scientific research. According to the framework, the scientific ommunity and the policy makers will meet once a year for discussions and information exchange.
A Strong Point – Romania’s Responsibility for Navigation
The EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) refers to one fifth of the EU’s surfaces and covers/targets around 115 mil. citizens. It was initiated by Austria and Romania in 2008. The three main priority areas Romania coordinates in partnership with other EU-member states are:
- To improve/ Improving mobility and intermodality of inland waterways – Austria and Romania;
- To manage/ Managing environmental risks – Hungary and Romania;
- To promote/ Promoting culture and tourism, people to people contacts – Bulgaria and Romania.
Only the first two priorities overlap with the scientific clusters: navigation and environment. On the whole, the three priority areas to which Romania brings its contribution do not tackle the other main issues of the region. By this I’m referring to security, competitiveness, human resources and energy.
Romania has pledged to contribute, in partnership/as a partner, to the achievement of a more environmentally friendly river transport by improving navigability, that leads to increasing by/ this will lead to an 20% increase in the amount of goods transported on the Danube by 2020. In 2007, around 50 mil. tons of goods were transported and this is less than 10% of the transport potential of the river/ river’s transport potential. In 2012, 31 mil. tons of goods were transported only on the Romanian part of the Danube Channel, but the value is only one third of its total capacity.
But the macro-region lacks a common energy market, and domestic energy is insufficient, although this region has natural potential and has resources for green energy. The Danube Region needs cheaper and safer energy, obtained through a better connectivity system and alternative sources.
A strategy without budget
The challenges facing the countries from the Danube Region are diverse/various and complex, and that is why/this being the reason the scientific support focuses on four main priorities: environmental protection, agricultural development and irrigation systems, navigation and energy. We’re talking about major flooding, biodiversity degradation, deforestation, a need for more efficient irrigation techniques that waste less water, navigation which is more efficient and less harmful to the environment and renewable energy production.
But things are moving rather slowly. The fact that it would require its own budget makes this strategy a vague area of cooperation under the circumstances that the problems to be addressed are major.
Discussions regarding financing have been put into another form so that the strategy does not remain only an idea. So that funding can be obtained from:
- existing EU funds (Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund, the EU Solidarity Fund, FP7, the LIFE+ instrument, the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development);
- funds provided by the international financial institutions (European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development);
- public-private partnership;
- contributions from local budgets or the national budget. Approximately 70% of the public investment from the EU area come from local or regional authorities.
Obviously this is not the most efficient solution, given the European economic context.
A more concrete cooperation between states from the Danube Strategy could give an impetus to the European growth.
Establishing the priorities of the Strategy by EU-member states has a specific purpose in accordance with the recommendations of the European Commission on 9 April 2013 (COM (2013) 181 final). They state that priorities should be included in future EU funding programs for 2014-2020, especially in the financial programme of the cohesion policy so that future projects are viable and financeable. The initiative is an important step in supporting the Strategy for the Danube Region, perhaps the most concrete one so far.
Towards the end of the year, on 28 – 29 October, Romania will host the second annual conference on the Danube Strategy. Any decisions on funding included in the 2014-2020 financial strategy (if approved by then) will be made in Bucharest.
Adrian Marius Dobre