Danube - At the heart of cooperation in the South East Europe Region

The EU Strategy for the Danube Region, presented and adopted in the beginning of December by the European Commission, puts regional cooperation at the forefront. This is the second macro-regional strategy after the EU strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and brings together 14 countries, out of which 12 are participating in the SEE Programme (Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Moldova, Montenegro and Ukraine). 

The two other participating countries are Germany and Czech Republic. It is interesting to notice that for the 2007-2013 period, nearly half of the Territorial Cooperation Programmes (including the South East Europe Programme) are focused on the Danube Region.

The strategy provides excellent opportunities for territorial cooperation as it will have an important role in the development of the region as well as in the strengthening of cooperation between the participating countries. At the SEE programme kick off, in March 2008, the former Commissioner for Regional Policy, Danuta Hubner, had emphasized the importance of the Danube River for the region, as "the European river par excellence, and a perfect focus for transnational cooperation". In this respect, the SEE Programme provides a suitable framework to take to a practical level the political cooperation that has been achieved so far among the Danube countries and to explore new opportunities to promote cooperation among countries in the region.

The area covered by the strategy stretches from southern Germany to the Black Sea coast. As one of the "Trans-European corridors" Danube represents a priority axis for inland waterway traffic across the Union. The "Rhine-Danube" corridor provides a direct link between the North Sea and the Black Sea.

The development of the Danube basin was - among others - one of the most supported theme within the first calls of the SEE programme. As the program has one of the central aim to enhance the integration of the accession and neighbouring countries, the Danube could be one of the ?labels" which might successfully contribute to achieving the original aims. The SEE programme continously seeks the cooperation of the key stakeholders of the programme area but also of other key actors of those parts of the Danube area which are - by the time being -not benefitting directly from the financial sources of the program as not located int he eligible program area -.

The Strategy will be officially launched during the Hungarian EU presidency, the expected date of formal approval by the Council is June 2011. Some of the common actions to be developed include: improving the transport links in the region (with a focus on the Danube navigation), common solutions for a cleaner environment, or cooperation on combating organized crime and enhancing tourism capacity.