I was happy to take part in it alongside my colleague commissioner for education, culture, youth and sport, Tibor Navracsics. This year's forum featured, among others, the adoption of a joint statement setting forth the future principles and priorities of this region that stretches from Germany to the Black Sea and hosts 110 million people.
I dare say the agreement on future priorities could hardly have been better: regional energy security, infrastructure development, the environment, clean connectivity and partnership with the citizens of this region are key to the lands bathed by the Danube.
As Bulgaria took over the Strategy's presidency after Hungary, I am convinced that there is no greater priority than better connectivity in the region, encompassing land transport and navigability. Ask those living along the Danube, they will tell you that their primary concerns the need for clean air to breathe, traffic congestion and energy security to name but a few.
The EU funds will help translating the words of the joint statements into actions, and more importantly into concrete, visible results for the citizens, notably via investments made on trans-European transport networks, the so-called TEN-T corridors.
Beyond the budgetary aspects, the key word of course remains cooperation. The 2009 gas crisis showed the need for more connectivity in the field of energy. Joint action in environmental issues is equally crucial; not only has pollution the unpleasant habit to ignore national border, but a cleaner Danube area will improve the quality of life of its inhabitants.
Cooperation is also needed in terms of administrations working together, and not only across national borders but also within national boundaries: more cooperation between the local, regional and national level is crucial in order to speed up processes and to avoid the syndrome of the right hand not knowing what the left one does.
The Danube Strategy is one of the 4 macro-regional strategies. It was launched in April 2011, gathering 9 EU countries (Austria, Croatia, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria) and 5 non-EU countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia and Ukraine). At the forum, the Commission's Joint Research Centre presented the latest addition to the Commission's Knowledge Centre for Territorial Policies, the Territorial Dashboard, which offers a user-friendly visualisation of data for all EU regions, on economy, education, employment, health, energy or transport. It aims to help regional authorities of the Danube region target investments where they are most needed and where they can have the greatest impact.