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18th Mar 2019

EU endorses 'Danube strategy' despite environmental concerns

  • Budapest is one of the European capitals along the Danube (Photo: www.spotmob.com)

EU ministers have officially endorsed the EU commission's 'Danube strategy' aimed at improving navigation and cleaning up pollution on Europe's longest river, despite criticism that some of the targets clash with green policies at national level.

"With the adoption of the Danube strategy, one of the priorities of the Hungarian EU presidency has been achieved," Hungarian foreign minister Janos Martonyi said during a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday (13 April).

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He added that added that this model of macro-regional strategy, the second after an earlier Baltic Sea scheme, is being eyed by certain member states for their own neighbourhoods.

The strategy will involve 14 countries along the Danube - eight member states and six non-EU countries: Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Ukraine and Moldova.

It will not bring any new funding to the region, aiming instead to better co-ordinate transport, infrastructure and environmental projects which can be financed by the EU's structural and neighbourhood envelopes, as well as tourism, better governance and culture.

Countries will be responsible for various areas, with Austria and Romania for instance responsible for Danube navigation - a topic which has already raised criticism from environmental groups such the World Wildlife Fund.

"The Danube strategy has conflicting targets, particularly when it comes to improving navigation, which can come at the expense of the environment," Irene Lucius from the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme told this website.

One particular area of concern for the WWF is the target of "eliminating existing navigation bottlenecks on the river which shall accommodate type 6b vessels all year round by 2015," as mentioned in the action plan published by the EU commission at the end of last year.

"It is an irresponsible and unwise target, put forward by DG Move [the commission's directorate in charge of transport] just one day ahead of publication of the communication, not something that was really wanted by member states," Lucius said.

In practical terms, the target would mean that parts of the river which are shallow would have to be dug out potentially destroying fragile ecosystems.

All-year round navigation would also considerably add to the pollution of already unclean waters. Both measures would be against international and regional conventions signed by Danube states.

According to an EU presidency source, the navigation target is not fixed yet, as information from various countries is still missing. "In a year's time from now we'll have a better picture and perhaps it will emerge that it is not feasible," the official said.

In Hungary's view, having public transportation along the Danube and installing "intelligent transport systems" are far more tangible and practical targets, which could both improve traffic and environmental conditions in its part of the river, which flows through the capital city, Budapest.

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