Newsletter 5/2010 - From Brussels angle
INTERVIEW with Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Regional Policy, European Commission
The Danube Strategy – an opportunity to grow together
Commissioner Hahn, what is the importance of regional development in South East European countries in the context of the Danube Region Strategy?
The Danube basin is a region of great potential. 115 million people, 14 countries and 3 world religions make this region one of the most diverse in Europe and an important international hub encompassing EU-members, EU-candidate countries and non-EU-members. To put it in the words of Claudio Magris who wrote in the ‘Danube - a biography of a river’: “The Danube is the river where the peoples of Europe meet and mix up with each other.” These unique features put territorial cooperation beyond political borders on a daily basis to a test. Inversely, it reflects the huge potential of this macro-region not only in political and cultural but also in economic terms.
Thus, it is understandable that we are experiencing a true Danube boom. The European Commission has received over 100 contributions from governments and other stakeholders during the public consultation on the EU Strategy for the Danube Region. I can only applaud this spirit and commitment as it underlines the strategic importance of this Region. However, we need to stay focused and realistic in what we are trying to achieve.
After widespread consultations, what are the highest priorities of the European Commission with regard to the Danube Region Strategy?
The strategy will be judged by results – and the proposal we will put to you at the end of the year will be accompanied by an Action Plan concentrating our efforts on a limited number of priorities. The decisions will be difficult – but we will try to select those actions which command the widest support, and which are the most urgently needed. Priority actions should serve the interest of the region as a whole, and – last but not least – clearly they have to be, realistic and achievable.
The Strategy I want to see will not just be a random selection of good ideas, but a real contribution to building a better future for this part of Europe. It should particularly make our economy stronger, not just in the immediate future, but in the longer term. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, the Danube strategy should address the basic factors limiting the sustainable growth potential of this region.
That is why the Commission suggested focusing on socio-economic issues, the environment transport and energy.
How will the EC overcome differences among the participating countries in the Strategy’s preparation and implementation process, given that it includes EU members and candidate countries as well as potential candidates?
I am convinced that we must build on the cultural wealth of our region. Three world religions and a multiplicity of languages and ethnicities make diversity one of our strengths. That is why the Strategy should promote inter-cultural and religious dialogue, inter-community cultural events and networks, and as well as language skills and scholarship programmes. Universities have a crucial role to play in this. Secondly, environmental issues are not a luxury, but a crucial part of developing sustainable growth. In this area we will particularly support actions already agreed by Member States such as the River Basin Management Plan.
Thirdly, reliable and modern transport and energy systems are critical for the economic development of the region. In this regard, the consultation showed that there is a clear need to increase the navigability of the Danube. We need to focus on modernisation of ports, training facilities for pilots and development of a state of the art shipping industry based on innovative green technology. This will help make the
At the same time improved mobility at a European level must not open new business opportunities for smugglers, traffickers and other criminals. The Danube Strategy should support improvements in the domains of police work, justice and home affairs. Better structures, better training and closer cooperation are the key.
How will the EU ensure consistent financing of the projects?
Of course, these undertakings are not for free. In the Danube basin we have already €100 billion for regional development. This money is already supporting many projects. How well funded the Danube Strategy will be in the next period depends on the size of the budget as a whole, and the allocations to the participating Member States. All this is still to be discussed.
I am confident that the Danube Strategy can help spread expertise and improve the way we use the money available. Exchanges of good practices between Member States as well as with non-Member States will without doubt have a positive impact on the wider region. The Regional Cooperation Council has an important contribution to make drawing on its wealth of experiences in South East Europe.
I am convinced that the Danube Strategy will make a real difference to the lives of the people of this Region. It will mean that citizens will reap greater benefit from their membership of the EU or from their close relationship with us.
Johannes Hahn was appointed to the position of European Commissioner for Regional Policy, following the European Parliament's approval of the new European Commission on 9 February 2010. Prior to joining the Commission, Hahn served as the Federal Minister for Science and Research in Austria. A high ranking member of the Austrian People's Party, he has spent many years in local politics as a member of the Regional Parliament and the Regional Government in Vienna. Hahn holds Doctorate in Philosophy and is a former business executive.