Politics & Laws

Scum on Raab River Discredits Austria’s Eco-Model Status

Austria’s self-appointed status as an eco-friendly nation has for some time been overshadowed by a water policy crisis along the Austro-Hungarian stretches of the Raab river. For decades, residents on either side of the river have been burdened by a numbe

r of leather factories in East Styria and in the south of Burgenland.

The first public complaints about bad odour were raised back in the 1980s, and since then the water quality has never been any better than class 2 or 3. Governmental authorities in Austria, however, claim that things have improved. People beyond the border see things in a somewhat different light: a frothy layer has recently been coating the surface of the Raab river, the origin of which is not fully clear.

Hungarians find the situation unacceptable and want the Transboundary Water Commission to deal with this hot topic. Austria says that the agreement on which the Commission is based determines that its neighbour Hungary shall be informed of any changes affecting the river. Hungary takes it one step further by saying that any change requires Hungarian approval.

Based on its own interpretation, Hungary now urges Austria to close down at least one of the leather factories! However, the chemical causes leading to the formation of scum have not been clearly identified yet. A study conducted by the Vienna University of Technology has found the reduction of scum to correlate with the holiday closedown period of the leather factories, but there is no clear proof.

Hungary had criticised the final communication of the Transboundary Water Commission and threatened to take the case before the EU Commission using the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) as a reference. But the WFD provisions only need to be implemented by 2015.

Besides, there is no official decree that regulates scum formation, and so the latter is not subject to any mandatory limits. When the Hungarian pressure group Pro Natura Szentgotthárd (PRONAS) finally called on the Hungarian public to boycott Austrian beer for as long as the Raab river was carrying Austrian “froth”, Hungarian Environment Minister Gabor Fodor came to Vienna in mid-May to visit his Austrian counterpart Josef Pröll and talk turkey.

Both sides provisionally agreed to set up a task force whose aim is to investigate the matter and come up with concrete proposals by September. Whatever the outcome, Austria’s eco-model image has meanwhile suffered a serious blow at least in Hungary – with all the negative implications this may have for our heavily export-oriented environmental technology sector.
(Source: aqua press Int. 2/2007)

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