The catchment area of the Danube includes a region of approximately 800.000 km² with 120 million inhabitants, extending over 14 states, among them nine EU-member states (Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania) and five countries which are not EU-members (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Moldova).
Already before the enlargements of 2004 and 2007, Austria has striven for a stronger cooperation between the countries of this region – some of which have still a great potential for improvement. In 2002, Austria therefore initiated – together with Romania – the Danube-Cooperation-Process. It turned out, however, that a "Europeanization" of these efforts did not really make any headway. Once again it was Austria and Romania, who took the initiative for the EU-Strategy for the Danube Region.
The starting signal took place at the European Council in June 2009: the European Commission was asked by the heads of state or government to elaborate such a strategy till the end of 2010 – it is the second macro-regional strategy after the Baltic Sea Strategy.
After an intense exchange with and on the basis of contributions and proposals delivered by countries, regional bodies and other, incl. non-governmental, stakeholders of the region, the European Commission prepared a strategy paper, as well as a concrete action-plan, the actual working paper.
The action plan consists of four big pillars:
- Connecting the Danube Region (transport-infrastructure, energy as well as culture and tourism)
- Protecting the environment in the Danube Region (quality of waters, environmental risks, biodiversity)
- Building prosperity in the Danube Region (knowledge society through research, education and information technologies, competitiveness of enterprises; to invest in people and skills)
- Strengthening the Danube Region (institutional capacity and cooperation, as well as security; organised crime)
The four pillars are divided into eleven priority areas, and institutions from the member countries will take over the coordinating role in these priority areas.
Recently, Austria was entrusted by the European Commission with the coordinating role in three priority areas, “To improve mobility and multimodality – inland waterways”, “To invest in people and skills” and “To step up institutional capacity and cooperation”. Austria will coordinate these areas in cooperation with another country of the Danube region.