Brussels, 13 April 2011 - The ministers of the 27 EU Member States, have today in Luxembourg, endorsed the EU Strategy for the Danube Region adopted by the European Commission last December (IP/10/1687). Preparations for implementation of the Strategy are already underway. Around 200 priority actions will contribute to developing the area's huge economic potential and improving environmental conditions in the region.
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Regional Policy, who attended the meeting in Luxembourg, commented: “Today’s endorsement is an important milestone. It is now the responsibility of the Danube countries, regions and stakeholders on the ground to work on implementation which should start as soon as possible. By 2020, the Danube Region should offer its inhabitants an improved quality of life, more economic opportunities, more innovative companies creating jobs, a better environment and increased cultural exchanges. Success in the Danube region will contribute to the prosperity of Europe as a whole”.
Covering a fifth of the EU (100 million inhabitants), the Danube Region is key to the well-being of the EU as a whole. Many of the region's challenges know no borders: flooding, transport and energy links, environmental protection and security, all require a united approach.
The strategy concerns mainly 14 countries of which 8 are Member States (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania) and 6 are non-EU countries (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Ukraine and Moldova). Organisations representing civil society and private companies are also involved in the implementation of actions and projects, and achievement of precise targets.
The strategy is based on a new working method based on a “macro-regional” approach, following in the footsteps of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. The novelty of the method is the way it brings countries together to cooperate on setting goals, aligning funding, and working together to achieve their objectives, with the Commission playing a leading role in co ordination.
The strategy focuses on four main pillars:
- Connecting the Danube Region (improving mobility, encouraging sustainable energy and promoting culture and tourism). Projects under this priority include: the removal of shipwrecks and other debris from the river bed, multimodal terminals at river ports to connect inland waterways with rail and road transport, completion of the "Magistrale" railway axis linking Paris-Budapest via Stuttgart, Ulm, Munich, Vienna and Bratislava, the 4Biomass project to boost renewable energies, transnational tourist packages for combined rail-cycle-boat trips along the Danube, etc.
- Protecting the environment in the Danube Region (restoring water quality, managing environmental risks and preserving biodiversity). Projects include: setting up buffer strips along the river to retain nutrients, the "Blue Danube" cooperation project on urban waste water treatment, reduction of pharmaceutical residuals in water, wetland restoration to enhance flood protection, implementation of a network of protected areas etc.
- Building prosperity in the Danube Region (developing research capacity, education and information technologies, supporting the competitiveness of enterprises and investing in people’s skills). This will take the form of joint research centres, joint programmes for professional education and vocational training, projects to increase the use of e-Government and e-Health services for citizens, initiatives to support Roma communities, etc.
- Strengthening the Danube Region (stepping up institutional capacity and improving cooperation to tackle organised crime). Examples of projects include training and exchanging best practices especially on public finance management, establishing a Danube Civil Society Forum, developing common guidelines for spatial planning.
The strategy is the result of a wide public consultation process which started in February 2010. The objective was to reach all stakeholders and to gather their ideas in order to make sure that objectives are realistic and responsive to the real needs of inhabitants of the Region.
An Action Plan set priorities, identifies projects and proposes some deadlines. In February, Commissioner Hahn announced which countries and regions will coordinate each priority area of work (IP/11/124). These coordinators are now preparing implementation. The Commission will monitor the implementation of the strategy and will publish a first report at the end of 2012.
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