Sofia has played host to the first expert meeting for the Danube Region from the agenda of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of EU. The EU Strategy for the Danube Region launched in 2011 is relatively little known though it encompasses 14 countries and more than 100 million people accounting for one-fifth of EU population.
From the Black Forest (the Schwarzwald) all the way to the Black Sea, Europe’s second-longest river connects along its 2850 km the countries of Central Europe with the Black Sea region, the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia. The EU Strategy for the Danube Regionemphasizes the regional approach in a bid to make the territories along the valley an attractive place to live with good job opportunities, preserved nature and diverse cultural life. The steps in meeting these goals include upgrading transport connections, cutting environmental pollution and flood threat, limiting dependence on energy suppliers and tackling demographic problems. The lower reaches of the Danube for instance, represent its worst developed economic zone, but there its biodiversity is preserved to the greatest extent while in its upper reaches 80 percent of the diversity of species and habitats has been lost due to heavy industrialization. Therefore I claim that the Danube is our missed opportunity, Dr. Erhard Busek said in an interview for the Bulgarian National Radio. A long-standing head of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe and former Vice Chancellor of Austria, today Dr. Busek is Chairman of the Institute for the Danube Region.The Danube is a river which together with its tributaries connects people from 14 countries and thus creates opportunities in both economy and culture. These ties were artificially interrupted during the Cold War but we have not used well enough the time since the Iron Curtain collapsed to rebuild these ties,Dr. Busek contends. The EU Strategy for the Danube Regionis little known even in the Danube countries.It operates without extra financing from EU, without explicit directives and without creating new structures.
This is exactly its meaning, Erhard Busek went on to say. There is a range of projects that would be useful for the people. I for one am one of the critics of EU, because the bloc ought to take up a leadership role and become the initiator of this convergence. Here is an example which has to do with Bulgaria: Northwestern Bulgaria, the region around Vidin, as well as western Romania – around Craiova and Eastern Serbia – in the region of the Iron Gates, share the same sorry plight – these regions are severely depopulated. What we need is a common strategy for the revival of this part of Europe in the format of a cross-border initiative. I have personally tried on many occasions to convince the governments of the three neighboring countries of the need for joint action but I have failed, unfortunately.
Northwestern Bulgaria is the poorest region in the entire EU. In the meantime, the Danube Region is one of Europe’s most promising tourist destinations with its territory offering unique nature sites able to attract visitors from across the globe. In the territory of Bulgaria alone there are nine sites from the UNESCO cultural heritage list. For years there have been discussions on creating joint tourist products and cultural corridors. What instruments does the EU regional policy hold for the implementation of these ideas?
It can exert pressure, lead projects and coordinate cross-border cooperation, Erhard Busek explained. There is certain progress in terms of transport infrastructure: roads are in a better shape than in previous years, but this is definitely not enough. The conditions for doing business and for creating jobs should improve as a way to attract investments and people.
The Bulgaria EU Presidency prioritizes the countries of the Western Balkans and some of them are Danube countries too. EU membership gives considerable advantage to economic relations, Erhard Busek said. As to Euroscepticismand attitudes in EU opposing the accession of new Member States, Dr, Busek has a simple recipe:
We should not forget that Europeans – be them part of EU or not – account for a mere 7 percent of the world’s population. We are facing the prospect of shrinking to 4 percent, and from a global point of view this means that Europe is about to disappear. My message is that we, Europeans, must unite, and this is only possible via joint efforts. I think that we are drowsing away Europe’s future right now.
English Daniela Konstantinova
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