REC contributes to Danube Strategy Forum

Workshop focused on increased involvement of non-EU countries of EUSDR

October 20, 2017 | By Nathan Johnson

On October 18, during Day 1 on of the 6th Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR), REC Executive Director Mihail Dimovski was one of five panel participants for a workshop titled “Increasing the Involvement of the Non-EU countries in the EUSDR”.

Adopted in 2010 by the European Commission and endorsed by the European Council in 2011, the EUSDR is a macro-regional strategy that seeks to create synergies and coordination between existing policies and initiatives taking place across the Danube Region. The area covered by the EUSDR ranges from the Black Forest to the Black Sea and is home to 115 million inhabitants. The EUSDR addresses a wide range of issues, divided into four pillars and 12 priority areas. Each priority area is managed by two countries as Priority Area Coordinators (PACs).

This year’s forum, hosted under Hungarian Presidency of the EUSDR, was titled “A Secure, Connected and Prospering Danube Region’. The key aims of the two-day event were to address challenges and perspectives related to energy security, transportation development, clean connectivity and financing for the region. The key question to answer throughout the proceedings was how to best transform political commitments into operational policies and measures.

In a workshop that focused on securing increased involvement of non-EU countries of the EUSDR, Michael Ralph, Adviser to the Deputy Director General of the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, European Commission served as moderator. The four other panel participants were Silvia Davidoiu, Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Coordinator of Romania; Oxana Gluscenco, Acting Head of Division, Programme Administration Office, Moldovan State Chancellery; Almir Sahovic, Assistant Minister for Multilateral Relations, Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Rostyslav Tomenchuk, Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister of Regional Development Construction, Housing and Utilities of Ukraine.

The moderator had prepared questions that each panellist was given an opportunity to answer. The session concluded with several questions from the audience, with the panellists answering in kind.

The workshop moderator was Michael Ralph, Adviser to the Deputy Director General of the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, European Commission. The four other panel participants were Silvia Davidoiu, Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Coordinator of Romania; Oxana Gluscenco, Acting Head of Division, Programme Administration Office, Moldovan State Chancellery; Almir Sahovic, Assistant Minister for Multilateral Relations, Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Rostyslav Tomenchuk, Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister of Regional Development Construction, Housing and Utilities of Ukraine.

The moderator had prepared questions that each panellist was given an opportunity to answer. The session concluded with several questions from the audience, with the panellists answering in kind.

What has been achieved so far?

Mr Ralph posed this question first to the three panellists representing non-EU countries, beginning with Mr Sahovic, who mentioned that Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has been working to increase its regional connectivity, and that EU accession is at the top of the country’s foreign policy agenda. “I see the Danube Strategy as an excellent opportunity for the country to expand connectivity in all things,” Sahovic concluded.

Ms Gluscenco from Moldova admitted that Moldova is dealing with present complications of administrative reform, and the reduction of 16 to nine state ministries. At the same time, she explained, “people are readier and more enthusiastic than ever to participate” in new processes and initiatives.

“Ukraine has had some policy successes in recent years,” said Mr Tomenchuk, “and the fact that I can even come here and speak on a Danube Strategy panel is another indication of progress that has been made.” Tomenchuk added that it is very important to coordinate Ukraine’s four regions and the efforts of local government, pointing also to successful developments in the areas of transport, innovation and tourism.

Speaking from the vantage point of being an EU member state, Ms Davidoiu stated that Romania is in a good geographical position and has been treated well in the context of the Danube Strategy. She noted that Romania has been involved in “many, many” successful projects with Serbia, and that cooperation has increased with the neighbouring countries of Moldova and Ukraine. One issue at hand, according to the national coordinator, is developing sufficient capacity because “it’s difficult to be part of all the working groups.”

The REC Executive Director, Mr Dimovski, mentioned that his organisation has played an important role in two EU expansions, and is now involved in facilitating another enlargement process, while at the same time strengthening its ties with Eastern Partnership countries. “The Danube Strategy is an essential document,” Dimovski said, “but it cannot succeed without the cooperation of non-EU countries. One of the strategy’s key values is that it is ideal for analysing national standards. There remains much work to be done, and it will require huge amounts of financing—particularly to meet the Chapter 15 and Chapter 27 requirements—but alignment will happen eventually, even if slowly at times.”

What are your priorities for the future?

Asked to identify future present priorities for the future, the Ukraine panellist cited innovation, infrastructure, ecology, culture and tourism, emphasising the need to develop “smart specialisation” and local, peer-to-peer cooperation.

Moldova, again noting the current period of administrative transition, stressed the need for good governance, improved infrastructure and connectivity, while also indicating a wish to develop innovation and build up its culture and tourism infrastructure.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is attempting to address all 11 priorities of the Danube Strategy, but is especially keen to improve its connectivity infrastructure and energy security, and to reach its culture and tourism potential. In terms of its own national strategic documents, the country has achieved 38 percent of its objectives, Mr Sahovic claimed.

Romania still has many open opportunities for cooperation, according to Davidoiu, and at the same time still plans to build on what has already been achieved. She pointed out, however, that much remains to be done in terms of opening up Romania’s culture and tourism sector. “We’re all travelling west, but too few are coming here to visit,” Davidoiu said. “Our national treasures are not being shared with others.”

“The priorities of the REC reflect national priorities as well,” Dimovski stated. “We’re proud to provide an informal communication mechanism for countries in the region. Focusing broadly on results, monitoring and lessons learned, the REC is involved throughout the Danube region and in several Interreg projects, and works closely with regulatory and scientific communities to help identify needs and priorities.”

What needs to be improved?

Asked to address current challenges or administrative bottlenecks, Ms Davidoiu mentioned that there is “no single recipe” for addressing problems, and that networks and a sufficient number of relevant experts are necessary in order to take in all the information that is out there. “We can’t get to every meeting, but we can aim to ensure better communication,” she said.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a “small country of just 3.5 million inhabitants, but very complex at the administrative level,” Mr Sahovic explained. “We are working to establish a coordination mechanism that, ideally, will have one national coordinator.”

Moldova, currently without a national coordinator, aims in the meantime to develop its local-level expertise and improve its access to and communication of information, according to Ms Gluscenco.

Mr Tomenchuk spoke of some current difficulties related to regional development, adding that it will be important to install persons with real professional capacities in ministerial positions to ensure harmonised development across regions.

Closing thoughts and remarks

An audience member from Turku, Finland, commented that key stakeholders and coordinators do not always have the time necessary to ensure that information is effectively communicated to all stakeholders in all participating countries, noting that it is essential that cities, regions and universities be able to communicate with one another, preferably in local languages. The participant wondered if the panellists would consider establishing outside organisations to take over the role of coordinating communication.

A member of the audience from Ukraine asked why none of the panellists had listed climate change as a top present or future priority. The general answer given by the panel was that climate change-related details are already implicit in the priority areas to be addressed.

At the conclusion of the session REC Executive Director Dimovski reiterated his organisation’s pledge to continue working on the Danube Strategy: “The strategy is a vital communication and cooperation mechanism, and the involvement of non-EU countries is essential, so it’s very important to always be aware of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”


TAGS: Water management | Moldova | Ukraine | Bosnia and Herzegovina | Romania | Transboundary cooperation | Environmental financing

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