Celebrating 70 years of the Danube Convention
On 28 and 29 June 2018, the Palace of Serbia in Belgrade played host to a Ministerial Conference to mark the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Convention for Navigation on the Danube, also known as the Belgrade Convention
Following a reception to celebrate the 90th Session of the Danube Commission on the evening of Thursday 28 June, the main event began in earnest on Friday 29th with the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlovic, reiterating that the objectives of the Danube Commission – cooperation, connectivity and the free movement of goods and people – are as important for the region and Europe today as they were 70 years ago. Without connectivity there can be no economic development or new investments; greater exchange means better lives. The Deputy Prime Minister continued with a reminder that the event was not just a celebration of a common history, but also an opportunity to focus on the future.
The conference was attended by around 120 participants, including diplomatic representatives and managers from the transport administrations of the Commission’s eleven Member states, observer countries, the European Commission, and other important international organisations, including the ICPSDR, with which the Danube Commission cooperates.
The objectives of this year's conference included the strengthening of all forms of cooperation, accelerating development of common standards for navigation on the Danube, increasing safety and security, and the implementation of infrastructure projects in accordance with European plans for transferring traffic from road and rail to more environmentally friendly transportation on the waterways.
A brief history of the Danube conference
Postwar discussions about the Danube River were begun by the United States in 1945 when President Truman proposed at the Potsdam Conference that freedom of navigation should be assured on Europe's inland waterways.
The first Danube Conference was held in Belgrade on 30 July 1948 in the wake of World War II. Its purpose was to develop a new international body that would be responsible for the development and control of the Danube. This first conference resulted in several agreements, with the foreign ministers from the occupying forces of Britain, France, the USSR and the United States stipulating that:
Navigation on the Danube shall be free and open for the nationals, vessels of commerce and goods of all states, on a footing of equality in regard to port and navigation charges and conditions for merchant shipping. The foregoing shall not apply to traffic between ports of the same state.
The Danube Convention in Belgrade led to the establishment of the Danube Commission on 18 August 1948. The main objective of the Commission is, as it was then, to provide and develop free navigation on the Danube for commercial vessels flying the flag of all states in accordance with the interests and sovereign rights of the Member States of the Belgrade Convention. The Commission has also been successful in achieving its original objective of strengthening and developing economic and cultural relations, both between the Member States themselves and with other countries.
A separate commission, the International Danube Commission, or IDC, was formally organised after 1918 and is authorised to control commerce and improvements upriver beyond the Danube Delta.
The Danube Commission established in 1948 consisted of seven countries that bordered the river and replaced previous commissions that had also included representatives of non-riparian powers. Today, the Member States of the Danube Commission are Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine and Croatia. The Commission has had its seat in Budapest since 1954 and the Commission’s official languages are German, Russian and French.
One of the Danube Commission’s primary objectives is the creation of a unified navigation system for inland waterways throughout Europe and the Danube’s integration into a European wide transport corridor with a unified European navigation system. The Commission actively cooperates with other international bodies involved in the different aspects of inland waterway transport to facilitate this integration. Cooperation partners include the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Central Commission for the Navigation on the Rhine, the European Commission and the ICPDR.
All stakeholders in the Commission actively support the investments necessary for the development of river infrastructure, including ports, fleet modernisation, digitalisation, education, improvement of administrative procedures, and the development and the application of intelligent transport systems. In doing so, the environmental benefits of inland waterway transport and the fight against climate change are ensured, thus preserving the Danube as one of Europe’s most important lifelines.