The Danube Corridor is used in many different ways: as a living and economic environment for millions of people, a habitat for endangered animal and plant species, and a "psychotope" for recreation seekers. The river itself is a source of (by comparison) climate-friendly electricity from hydropower. From time immemorial, the Danube has also served as a means of transportation for people and commodities. In connection with the expected economic recovery in Europe, it shall be increasingly used for waterway transport - particularly to and from Romania and Bulgaria - to relieve the road network.
As a first step towards this goal, the Danube was included in the list of Trans-European Transport Networks. The Danube Corridor became one of the action fields of NAIADES, the Action Programme for the promotion of inland waterway transport presented by the European Commission in 2006. This programme was followed up by NAIADES II. Since 2011, efforts to improve the situation of inland navigation have also been undertaken in the framework of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR).
In Austria, NAIADES was implemented through the National Action Plan Danube Navigation (NAP), which is drawing to a close in 2015. This plan encompassed 40 measures which were intended to enhance waterway transport, but also to revitalise some of the river sections and to improve flood protection.
The latest national milestone in the development of the Danube Corridor is the Action Programme Danube (APD), which was recently presented in Linz by Austria's Infrastructure Minister Alois Stöger. The APD was developed by the Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (bmvit), in conjunction with via donau -Österreichische Wasserstraßen-Gesellschaft m.b.H. as well as 100 external experts from all relevant industries, on the basis of the federal government's current transportation master plan. It takes account of the conclusions and requirements identified in the course of the NAP, in a number of comprehensive feasibility studies and in the in-situ pilot project at Bad Deutsch-Altenburg east of Vienna. The APD conforms with the corresponding EUSDR objectives.
Start-up grant of 12 million euros
Federal Minister Alois Stöger views the Action Programme Danube not only as a comprehensive strategy to make cargo transport more efficient, safer, more eco-friendly, and more social; in times of austerity, the APD shall also signalise that Europe badly needs investments to get back on the success track. Stöger believes that start-up subsidies in the infrastructure sector are particularly effective in this respect. He expects that the APD will have a positive impact on transboundary flood management and also help to revitalise specific river sections. The strategic coordination tool APD will determine the course in this direction until 2022.
bmvit has set aside a total budget of 12 million euros (around 1.5 million euros annually) to implement this programme in Austria. Alois Stöger points out that this money is intended as a start-up grant, which he hopes will trigger further investments of up to 100 million euros until 2022. One third of this money may be co-funded through EU projects. The target group is primarily comprised of private shipping companies as well as industrial companies dependent on waterway transport. Additional funds (two million euros) are derived from the national funding programme for environmentally friendly inland waterway vessels ("Förderprogramm umweltfreundliches Binnenschiff") which lasts until 2017. A bi-annual progress report, which is open for public review, shall inform about the milestones achieved until 2022.
Better integration of ecology and flood protection
Ursula Zechner, Head of the Transport Department at bmvit, outlines the path that has led to the definition of the three major pillars and the measures to be implemented under the umbrella of the APD. The starting point was a round of three workshops involving all relevant stakeholders, which were held last year. The results obtained in these workshops served to prepare an APD draft, which was submitted to the stakeholders for approval in May 2015.
Ursula Zechner says: "While the contents of the APD basically draw on those of the NAP, there is more emphasis on the interaction between ecology and flood protection. The APD envisages only 23 strategic measures as opposed to the 40 measures defined in the NAP, but they have a broader setting and therefore allow more leeway to adapt to potential framework changes. The idea behind this integrated approach is that one measure shall serve several purposes."