The Border-crosser has been in Ulm for the launch of the consultation phase of the EU's new, all-singing, all-dancing Danube Strategy. At least you would think it was going to be all-singing, all-dancing, when you heard some of the speeches. Most of them included wishlists that were significantly longer than seems sensible and a reality check will need to be introduced at some point. A serious discussion on what can actually be done, and when, will need to happen at some point. The Serbian Deputy Prime Minister, Bozidar Djelic, made this point better than most of the Member State politicians.
Nevertheless, the Danube is an interesting case for such a macro-regional strategy. It is not the most obvious choice for such a strategy (if you had asked me a year or so ago which region would follow the Baltic, I would have guessed the Alps, or maybe the North Sea). It does not have a great history of co-operation, barring very specific examples like the Danube Commission on navigation. Certainly, it cannot offer anything to compare with the multiplicity of networks which exist in the Baltic.
However, it is not an inherently hopeless case, like the Union for the Mediterranean (more on this in a future post.) The effective lobbying at national and regional level which led the European Council to ask for a Danube Strategy last June has built up much good will and commitment. Getting 450 people to Ulm in the middle of the German winter certainly points to enthusiasm, if nothing else. Current EU co-operation programmes in the region have improved a lot compared to the past, and there is a lot of interesting, if as yet rather unco-ordinated, work going on.
Next up for the Danube is the Budapest Summit at the end of February, where prime ministers are going to turn up, wax lyrical about the river, and give an added political boost to the Strategy's preparations. Should be fun.