Shaping Transformation, Creating Opportunities:
A Prosperous, Resilient and Secure Danube Region

 

Austria holds the Presidency of the EUSDR from 1 November 2023 to 31 December 2024.

Austria is taking over the Presidency at a moment when the Danube macro-region is living through a time of transition. Beyond Russia’s ongoing illegal war of aggression against Ukraine, we are facing fundamental and far-reaching transformations: geopolitical shifts, economic uncertainty, climate change, changing demographics and growing social imbalance. All these challenges call for intensified cooperation across borders.
Under the slogan ‘Shaping Transformation, Creating Opportunities: A Prosperous, Resilient and Secure Danube Region‘, the Austrian EUSDR Presidency will focus on the following three thematic priorities:

  1. Contributing to Stability and Security, and a clear European Perspective for the whole Danube Region
  2. Fostering Innovation, Skills and Business Opportunities in the Danube Region
  3. Enhancing the Danube Region Ecosystem, Water and Green Transition Management

Across all these priorities, Austria will pursue the participation and involvement of youth, civil society and regional and local stakeholders.

Furthermore, the Austrian EUSDR Presidency will focus on the following three institutional and governance objectives:

  1. Strengthening political commitment and broad ownership of EUSDR, by involving Danube Region stakeholders in a comprehensive way
  2. Continuing joint efforts to enable tangible funding opportunities
  3. Illustrating the clear added value of the EUSDR at local, regional, national and European levels and ensure visibility, i.a. by highlighting Danube Strategy Flagships and Danube Region Programme (DRP) projects

In addition, discussions to identify key messages and processes regarding the future perspectives of the EUSDR beyond 2024 will be launched during the Austrian Presidency.

Programme, meetings & events of the Presidency:

 

Short version of the programme of the Austrian EUSDR Presidency

Detailed version of the Programme of the Austrian EUSDR Presidency

Events of the Austrian EUSDR Presidency

 

Past Events of the Austrian EUSDR Presidency:

On Tuesday, 9 April 2024, international experts and decision-makers joined the 3rd edition of the EUSDR Austrian National Participation Day entitled Waters 2040: Climate Change and Resilient Water Management in the Danube Catchment.

The event was organised by Foster Europe Foundation for Strong European Regions, in collaboration with the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, the BOKU Doctoral School Human Rivers, the Danube Civil Society Forum and the EUSDR Priority Area 10 – Institutional Capacity and Cooperation, under the auspices of the Austrian EUSDR Presidency 2024.

As the conference aimed to outline and formulate knowledge-based political, administrative, economic and social issues, demands and/or challenges connected to changes in the Water Circle and Water Management in the Danube catchment by 2040, the programme consisted of four key areas involving water management:

  • Extreme Hazard and Climate Change
  • Biodiversity Crisis & Challenges in Water Quality
  • Energy & Transport
  • Co-creation, Co-design and Citizen Science

The event delved into various crucial aspects of water management, including cross-priority areas discussions on floods and droughts and their effects on inland water transportation, sustainable energy, water quality, environmental risks, biodiversity, ecosystems, collaboration among relevant institutions, and engagement of citizens.

The collaboration between various stakeholders and the allocation of sufficient resources, along with political backing and effective empowerment, can help prevent the potential hazards arising from droughts and floods caused by ongoing climate change. By implementing the solutions proposed by experts, the Danube Region’s cooperative initiative can play a significant role in formulating a unified and sustainable approach towards water management.

Following the open discussions and opinion exchange, significant findings emerged emphasising the necessity for societies in the Danube River Basin to effectively handle and harmonise potential water conflicting requirements. Additionally, the EUSDR must establish and plan for its involvement in these procedures. Fresh methods to mitigate the impacts of floods and ensure equitable allocation of water during scarcity periods have to be negotiated at the local, regional, national, and transnational levels. It is imperative that directly affected stakeholders, scientific communities, and civil society actively participate in employing co-creation and co-design methodologies to shape future strategies.

 

The experts made recommendations on each key area included in the agenda:

 

Extreme events and climate change

  • Expansion of integrated flood and drought risk management
  • Improving and implementing spatial planning regulations to minimise damage where these do not yet exist
  • Prioritisation of near-natural solutions over purely technical measures, of non-structural flood protection (adaptation of use) over structural flood protection (structural measures)
  • Improving water retention and groundwater recharge through river renaturation to improve the situation during floods and droughts
  • Protection and restoration of floodplains as a win-win-win measure to counteract the decline in biodiversity and soil loss while reducing the risk of flooding and drought
  • Development of blue-green infrastructures as adaptation measures to climate change in the urban environment
  • Biodiversity and water quality

 

Implementation of near-natural solutions in catchment areas and river landscapes

  • Restoring habitats and restoring ecological connectivity through near-natural measures and technical innovations throughout the entire watercourse network
  • Reducing soil erosion and nutrient transport through best agricultural practices
  • Utilise innovative monitoring approaches and in-situ monitoring sites to develop targeted management measures for surface and groundwater systems
  • Implementation of integrated river basin management plans and comprehensive programmes of measures
  • Extension of the integrative river basin management plans and comprehensive programmes of measures

 

Energy industry and shipping

  • Implementation of measures and technologies (e.g. optimised hydropower types) to improve hydropower and ecology: reduction of reservoir sedimentation, improvement of sediment continuity, restoration of watercourse sections, reduction of flood risk, increased safety of facilities, reduction of the effects of residual water or hydropeaking, etc.
  • Developing new approaches to assessing sustainable hydropower potential
  • Ensuring energy security in connection with wind energy and photovoltaics
  • Improving fairway conditions through joint navigation and ecological measures throughout the Danube waterway network
  • Further development of the Danube waterway through the use of innovative groynes, flexible infrastructure, river information services and river restoration wherever possible
  • Implementation of mitigation measures, such as wave-protecting structures to minimise the negative impact of ship-induced waves on aquatic ecosystems or innovative ship types

 

Co-creation, co-design and citizen science

  • Development of co-creation and co-design methods that are applicable for practical, cross-sectoral use and decision-making
  • Apply co-creation and co-design methods to all major projects in the Danube Region to raise people’s awareness, develop better solutions and gain acceptance
  • Creation and provision of citizen science tools for interested and affected people along the Danube and its tributaries to collect data, achieve participation and take responsibility
  • Linking technical, natural and social science methods to improve the opportunities for citizen participation and its success in projects
  • Promote collaboration and dialogue between stakeholders in hydropower, navigation, natural hazard management and agriculture, as well as organisations involved in nature conservation and restoration

 

Making Waters 2040 a reality

Given these recommendations, the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) aims to enhance the current cross-border dialogue with the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), the Danube Commission, and the Sava Commission at various levels and with diverse stakeholders. The objective is to establish a comprehensive action framework that considers all stages of implementation. Over the upcoming years, science, politics, administration, civil society, and business are expected to collaborate closely with the river commissions and the EUSDR to formulate strategies and nature-based solutions through a “Danube Restoration Action Plan”. The primary focus is on merging utilisation and conservation (e.g., within the Horizon Europe Mission project DANUBE4all, visit https://www.danube4allproject.eu/). The organisers from the scientific and civil society sectors offer their support to the EUSDR for the implementation of these recommendations.

***

The National Participation Days in the Danube Region Strategy (EUSDR) participating countries aim at strengthening trust between public authorities and civil society towards better cooperation for the well-being of people living in the Danube Region.

 

 

Photo: © BOKU/ Christoph Gruber

On 18 – 19 March, the 9th EUSDR Speakers Conference took place in Vienna, chaired by the President of the Austrian National Council, Mr. Wolfgang Sobotka. The Conference, which focused on three topics – security, education for democracy and the Danube Region as a cultural, natural and science area – highlighted the parliamentary dimension of the Danube Region Strategy during the Austrian EUSDR Presidency.

 

The Speakers of Parliament, amongst them the Chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Dr. Ruslan Stefanchuk, underlined the values of the EU and the EUSDR countries of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

 

They condemned in a joint statement the ongoing Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, supported efforts towards achieving a just peace, stability, recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine and providing assistance to the Republic of Moldova, and welcomed the decision to start EU accession talks with Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova as well as the European Commission’s recommendation to open accession negotiations with Bosnia-Hercegovina.

 

Furthermore, the Speakers of Parliament encouraged all cooperation possibilities to support their accession processes to the EU within the EUSDR, underlining the role of the EUSDR as an important asset of the EU enlargement process. Finally, they encouraged enhanced cooperation and regional consciousness within the EUSDR, rooted in the common history, close cultural ties and shared interests.

 

 

Photo: © Parliamentary Administration (Parlamentsdirektion)/Johannes Zinner

The 26th Ordinary Session of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) took place between 12 and 13 December 2023 at the United Nations Organisation, Vienna. One of the main topics of the annual conference was the report on the numerous collaborations between the ICPDR and the EUSDR.

 

Roland Arbter, one of two national EUSDR coordinators in Austria and a representative of the Austrian EUSDR Presidency, detailed upon the Austrian Presidency program and emphasized in particular the importance of the governance framework for cooperation of the ICPDR for the Danube Region and the Danube Region Strategy. The Austrian EUSDR Presidency aims to strengthen the role of EUSDR for cooperation activities of important international organizations in the Danube Region.

 

In addition to the presentations of the progress reports of various expert groups, the EUSDR Priority Areas (Priority Area 1a – Waterways Mobility, Priority Area 4 – Water Quality, Priority Area 5 – Environmental Risks and Priority Area 6 – Biodiversity) also presented current activities, projects and objectives. A number of projects with ICPDR participation were also presented, including the Horizon 2020 project Myriad-EU, which aims to achieve a paradigm shift in the assessment and management of risks through cross-risk and cross-sector, systemic risk management. Such forward-looking projects support the initiation of processes with regard to future prospects in the Danube Region.

 

Close cooperation with the ICPDR, with its experience and mandate in water management, is very important for the EUSDR. The ICPDR and the EUSDR have continuously coordinated their activities in order to use synergies and to support all initiatives for the protection and conservation of the interconnected Danube macro-region.

 

During the meeting, Birgit Vogel, Executive Secretary of ICPDR, highlighted the central role of cooperation between the ICPDR and the EU Strategy for the Danube Region in achieving the goal of making the waters of the Danube basin cleaner, healthier and safer. She also announced the presentation of the updated version of the 2007 Joint Statement on Guiding Principles for the Development of Inland Navigation and Environmental Protection in the Danube River Basin. This important update will be presented under the auspices of the Austrian EUSDR Presidency and marks an important milestone in the ongoing efforts to reconcile the development of navigation with environmental protection in the region.

 

More information on the ICPDR and EUSDR can be found at: https://www.icpdr.org/about-icpdr/partners/eu-danube-strategy

 

More detailed information on the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River and its initiatives can be found at: www.icpdr.org

 

Photos: ©  Claudia Schaefers (left) & © ICPDR (right)

From 26 to 29 November, 2023, the 27th International Danube Navigation & Tourism Conference took place in Linz (Austria) focusing on the motto “New Times. Sustainability changes Danube cruises“. Being a key event in the EUSDR Presidency Program, the conference counted 290 international participants with active participation of EUSDR stakeholders (National Coordinator, Priority Area 3, Priority Area 1a). The conference format, which brings together tourism experts and providers from the land side regularly to discuss current challenges with representatives from the inland waterway and river side and then to tackle them together, is unique in the world.

 

The Danube Region is a key region for solidarity and an example of successful European integration. Moreover, the cultural and natural heritage the region offers must be used in the best possible and sustainable way in the cross-border development of Danube cruise tourism.

 

River cruises are an important tourism factor. As the aim is to extend land stays to create more sustainable tourism value, aspects of the Austrian EUSDR Presidency thematic priority “Promoting economic opportunities in the Danube region” were addressed. In addition, the conference focused on another thematic priority “Green Transition Management”, in particular through the transition of Danube shipping towards greater sustainability and the associated opportunities for the shipping industry. Starting with 2024, 100% green shore power will be available at the landing stages for cabin ships, initially in Upper Austria and gradually also in Lower Austria and Vienna.

 

The event was a great success in terms of networking between industry representatives. Participants were encouraged to actively use the EUSDR as a framework for cross-sector cooperation and continuous collaboration.

 

Presentations available here.

 

A summary in German and the documents of the press conference of the 27th International Danube Navigation and Tourism Conference can be downloaded at: 27. Internationale Donauschifffahrts- & Tourismuskonferenz (donauregion.at)

 

Photo: © WGD Donau Oberösterreich Tourismus GmbH-Andreas Maringer

On Wednesday, November 8th, an awareness-raising conference was held at the European Parliament in Brussels to mark the start of the Austrian Presidency of the EU’s macro-regional Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR). Austria took over the role from Slovenia on November 1st 2023.

 

The event was organised by the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs in cooperation with Austrian Members of the EU Parliament. Members of the European Parliament in particular from the Danube Region, Brussels-based diplomats from European countries and relevant stakeholders including the European Commission participated in the networking event.

 

Its purpose was to provide an insight into the priorities of Austria’s presidency programme and to invite the audience to participate in the Presidency activities and actively contribute to shaping the Danube Region’s future. The importance of the parliamentary dimension of EUSDR was highlighted by several participants, as well as topics evolving around green transition, civil society, culture, business opportunities, and giving a voice to the youth of the region.

 

Director Slawomir Tokarski from DG REGIO provided the perspective of the European Commission. Ambassador Dr Harald Stranzl, National Coordinator of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region at the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, gave a brief overview of the upcoming Austrian Presidency, emphasizing in particular EUSDR’s role as an instrument for gradually bringing the Western Balkan countries, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova closer to the EU, with the perspective of turning the Danube into a river flowing entirely through the European Union.

 

Please find here some additional information on the conference.

 

Photo: Lukas Mandl