The catchment area of the Danube has a population of roughly 120 million and covers approximately 800.000 km², extending over 14 states, among them nine EU-member states (Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania) and five countries which are not EU-members (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine and Moldova).
Already before the EU enlargements of 2004 and 2007, Austria supported a stronger cooperation between the countries of this region. In 2002, Austria and Romania thus initiated the Danube-Cooperation-Process. It turned out, however, that without a "Europeanization" of this process the efforts in question did not make substantial headway. Therefore, it was again Austria and Romania who took the initiative for the creation of a EU-Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR).
The kick off for the EUSDR finally took place at the European Council in June 2009 when the European Commission was tasked by the heads of state or government to elaborate a macroregional strategy by the end of 2010, the then second macro-regional strategy of the EU after the Baltic Sea Strategy.
After an intense exchange among representatives of countries, regional bodies and non-governmental stakeholders of the Danube region, the European Commission prepared a strategy paper and an action plan.
The action plan consists of four 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 again divided into eleven priority areas in which institutions from the member countries take over the coordinating role. Austria was entrusted with the coordination of three priority areas with the aim “to improve mobility and multimodality on inland waterways”, “to invest in people and skills” and “to step up institutional capacity and cooperation”. Austria coordinates these areas in cooperation with three other countries of the Danube region.
The EU-Strategy for the Danube Region was finally endorsed by the European Council on 24 June 2011. Subsequently, the first two annual fora took place in Regensburg and Bucharest in 2012 and 2013. In the following year, it was Vienna that on 26-27 June 2014 hosted the annual forum which attracted over 1100 participants. Hungary currently holds the presidency of the EU-Strategy for the Danube region and will organize the sixth annual forum in Budapest on 18-19 October 2017.
Presently, the Strategy focuses on the following aspects:
- Development of strategic concepts, in order to ensure effective cross-border co-ordination of national measures aimed at strengthening sustainable and socially just competitiveness in view of der Europe 2020 objectives.
- Increase inclusion of civil society and the private sector.
- Stepping up political engagement, in order to implement high visibility projects with a substantial employment Impact.