This year Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region, that took place on 26 and 27 June 2014 and was jointly organised by the European Commission, City of Vienna and the Federal Ministry of Austria, welcomed in the opening day more than 1,000 national and international participants from science, business, politics, administration and non-profit organizations at the Vienna City Hall.
The Forum, which this year was carried out under the motto “We grow together – together we grow”, had as general focus the revision of the Danube Strategy governance system and the competitiveness increase in the region, social inclusion being regarded as a prerequisite for ensuring prosperity and it was regarded as the most important event of the year within the EU Danube Region Strategy.
Besides the representatives of European institutions (Commission, Parliament, Committee of the Regions), central, regional and local authorities of the 14 participant countries, members of the academic and research community, representatives of the business sector and partner structures, the event featured also a number of high-ranking officials, such as EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn, Vienna Mayor and Governor Michael Häupl, Austrian Federal Minister for Education Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, as well as Minister for European and International Affairs from Baden Württemberg, Peter Friedrich, the Romanian Foreign Affairs Minister Titus Corlatean and Mayors of Ulm, Bucharest, Bratislava, Ruse, Giurgiu, Sofia.
Day 1 – Opening of the Forum
This year, the Forum was opened by Romanian and Austrian Foreign Ministers, as representatives of the co-initiator states of the Strategy, by European Commission’s director general for urban and regional policy Walter Deffaa and by Vienna Mayor and Land Governor Michael Häupl.
In his opening speech, Mayor Häupl noted that;”It was always Vienna’s declared aim to bring the cities and regions closer to the EU. The Danube Strategy is the culmination of these efforts. It permits the convergence of different cultures while preserving their integrity.” He also mentioned that Europe is at a crossing point now and “we have to make sure which way we go, since this choice should be made based not only on short-term economic objectives, but especially regarding the long-term objective of social cohesion.”
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said he was pleased with the progress and potential of the Strategy. “This strategic effort is a real added value for regional cooperation. All fourteen countries of the Danube area work together – irrespective of whether they are, or are not yet EU members; they work towards common objectives such as integration of the Danube region, environmental protection, sustainable development and strengthening prosperity […] If the region is to grow together, we will be able to make an essential contribution by ensuring intercultural and inter-ethnic dialogue. The cultural diversity we have here represents a great opportunity for the entire region”, said Kurz in his opening speech.
Minister Titus Corlatean underscored in the Forum’s opening the importance of the Danube Strategy as an engine for the region’s development, through economic growth, the gap reduction and new job creation, and a catalyst of the regional solidarity with the non-EU states, which closeness to the EU is facilitated by the participation in the Strategy. At the same time, the Romanian Foreign Affairs Minister highlighted the opportunities that EUSDR provides the participating states for the coordinated solving of some common regional issues.
“We share more than a map; we share a common vision, including the welfare and prosperity of the citizens in our region, the growth of our economies and the increased convergence of our European paths”, said Minister Titus Corlatean.
Commissioner Hahn honoured for his services to the Danube Region
At the Gala dinner at the end of day one Mayor Michael Häupl handed to EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn a gift of honour for his services to the Danube Region. The gift represents a three-piece copper engraving from 1685, representing the Danube from its source to its outlet. Häupl emphasized: “You, Mr. Commissioner, were the first EU Regional Policy Commissioner who has taken seriously and strengthened the concerns of cities and the urban dimension in EU policies. We thank you for your performance on behalf of the 70 percent of the EU citizens who live in cities”. EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn accepted the gift with thanks and noted: “I am proud to be a child of the City of Vienna and thank the Mayor and his team for this conference” […] “With their wide expertise in the administrative sector, the city of Vienna, within the context of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region, brings an important contribution to the development of this area.”
Day 2 – Workshops
A novelty at this year’s Forum was the ‘Danube Cosmos’ – a series of activities (including workshops, coaching zones, stands, speakers’ corners etc.) that presented initiatives and projects, on a wide range of topics covering all the priorities of the Strategy. This brought together partners to share ideas and best practice.
Several meetings had a special focus on cleaner navigation, including the “Policy meets industry” event. This brought together high-level business representatives and political decision-makers in order to formulate concrete measures to improve the current infrastructure and navigability situation along the Danube.
Commissioner Hahn unveils the results of a study to improve the economic performance of transport on the Danube, and reduce its environmental impact
Commissioner Hahn presented on the second day of the Forum a research and development project carried out under the Strategy, with partners from several Danube countries, which confirms that with good waterway conditions, transport on the Danube can be cost- and energy-efficient.
The Forum was closed by the Minister for European and International Affairs from Baden Württemberg, Peter Friedrich, who stated in his closing speech that: “The Danube strategy is a success story for the region. Baden-Württemberg is a leader in the regional cooperation in Europe and we get a lot of credit for our efforts. We use the opportunity that Europe offers us and bring our strengths”. Minister Friedrich was entitled to give a view of the next annual forum of the EUSDR, under the title “From the Black Forest to the Black Sea, a region of entrepreneurs, skilled workers, inventors and committed citizens”. Baden-Württemberg will be, in autumn 2015, the host country for the 4th Annual Forum of the EUSDR
This was the most attended Annual Forum of the EUSDR so far with many meetings and side events. Among them were also the 1st Participation Day gathering civil society stakeholders of the EUSDR, meeting on Migration Management on local level in Danube region countries and the Extended Executive Committee Meeting of CODCR (Council of Danube Cities and Regions).
Meeting of the Foreign Ministers
According to the model established through the EUSDR Annual Forum of 2013 in Bucharest, the meeting of the Foreign Ministers in the Danube Region was organised on the Forum’s sidelines. All 14 EUSDR participating states were represented, as well as the governments of the lands of Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg. The European Commission was represented by the director general for regional and urban policy.
The conference of ministers was held at the Foreign Ministry on the 26 of June and it focused on how to reach the common political objectives through improved cooperation between the participating countries. This will require first of all an improvement of the tools available and calls for strengthening the institutional capacities of the region. Economic success can only be achieved where the quality of administrative services is ensured, wrongdoing is reduced to a minimum and transparency is assured.
At the end of the meeting, a common declaration of the Foreign Ministers was adopted, which reiterates the support for the European path of non-EU states, voicing the support and solidarity with the countries affected by the floods in the spring of 2014