The Danube macro-region is a region of barriers, due to its highly fragmented status in political, socio-economic and administrative aspects as well. The effects of such fragmentation are decisive for the development of the whole region; therefore, the related border effects should be tackled and mitigated. This fragmented status of the Region, besides being a weakness, offers at the same time the opportunity for stronger cooperation and coordinated actions across these countries to overcome these barriers in the field of innovation, environment, governance and social issues. Following priorities are defined for the period 2021-2027:
Priority 1: “A Smarter Danube Region”
Specific objective: “Developing and enhancing research and innovation capacities and the uptake of advanced technologies”
Danube Region is characterised by large competitiveness gaps between the old, the new Member States and the non-EU countries, including their status within the regional innovation ecosystem. There is a low share of technology and knowledge-intensive activities. The RDI activities are overly concentrated within the western regions or the major urban hubs, including capital cities or university towns. Current scientific and technological transnational cooperation is hindered by different levels of knowledge transfers and innovations capacities. In addition, the spatially and structurally fragmented human resources and financial expenditures for innovation keep the transnational ecosystem badly functioning.
Specific objective: “Developing skills for smart specialisation, industrial transition and entrepreneurship”
Danube macro-region is characterised by countries with different economic and social development paths, performance convergence potentials or links to the European economic market. Whilst some regional economies of the Danube Region are heavily industrialised, most economies seem to be unprepared for the challenges arising from transitioning to industry 4.0 (i4.0). Support for transnational alignment of Smart Specialization Strategies (S3) and policies is of great importance.
Priority 2: “A Greener, Low-Carbon Danube region”
Specific objective: “Promoting renewable energy in accordance with directive (EU) 2018/2001, including the sustainable criteria set out therein.”
The power systems of the Danube Region’s (DR) countries still heavily rely on fossil fuels. In some of those countries (e. g. Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary) the energy dependency is higher than the EU average (53,6%). The share of renewables in gross final energy consumption is low, and has never reached 50% in any of the DR countries. Energy dependency and lack of high energy safety triggered by underutilized renewable energy resources characterizes the current situation within the Danube region.
Specific objective: “Promoting climate change adaptation capacities in the Danube Region and disaster management on transnational level in relation to environmental risks, taking into account ecosystem-based approaches”
The Danube Region is forecasted to be exposed to climate change greatly by increasing annual mean temperatures, the wet regions becoming wetter, the dry regions drier in general, as well as increase in the intensity and frequency of heat waves, dry periods, and of heavy rainfalls on local, regional level. The frequency and severity of environmental disasters like floods, droughts, or forest fires are predicted to increase in the next decades. The impacts of the changing climate and of the more frequent and extreme related disasters affect the ecosystem, economic sectors and human life in the Danube Region also on a transboundary scale.
Specific objective: "Sustainable, integrated, transnational water and sediment management in the Danube River Basin ensuring good quality and quantity of waters and sediment balance"
The Danube Region covers almost the entire water system of the Danube River Basin (DRB) and beyond the Danube River there are shared water bodies and water catchment areas of transnational importance, like the Tisa (TRB), Sava (SRB), Mura-Drava River Sub-basins. Pressures affecting the water quantity quality and sediment balance of these transboundary river(basin)s, surface and underground water bodies like contamination and water pollution or increasing water use, decreasing ground water levels, shrinking supplies, increasing periods of low water in transnational river systems can have serious impacts beyond country borders that make necessary the cooperation of key actors from upstream and downstream countries.
Specific objective: "Protecting and preserving the biodiversity in ecological corridors and eco-regions of transnational relevance in the Danube Region"
The Danube Region is a colourful mosaic of different biogeographical regions resulting in high biodiversity. The major rivers, the Danube River and its tributaries and mountain ranges, Carpathians, Dynaric Alps, Czech Forest-Bavarian Forest, are also important transnational ecological corridors providing connectivity between key habitats. However, this rich biodiversity is endangered by many factors, human interventions, spreading of invasive alien species and the climate change impacting the conditions of ecosystems, which need solutions often on a broader territorial level, in which transnational cooperation can be essential.
Priority 3 “A More Social Danube region”
Specific objective: “Accessible, inclusive and effective labour markets”
The Danube Region (DR) is affected by the interconnected challenges of persistent long-term unemployment, profound income inequalities, intensifying westward labour migration, skills gaps and a weak social economy. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic there had been significant improvements in overall national employment rates across large parts of the DR, particularly in large urban conurbations. However, there exist patterns of entrenched long-term unemployment throughout the DR which have not changed as significantly. It can be observed that these patterns are mostly evident amongst vulnerable groups, which include ethnic minorities (e. g. Roma), the aged and those persons with disabilities. It is also generally observed that the vulnerability is enhanced in rural areas and amongst those with relatively low levels of education. This is compounded in certain regions which have historically relied on employment in mono functional industrial and agricultural production facilities which over time have been subject to closure, downsizing or re-purposing. The persisting north-west versus south-east divide in spatial inequalities on the labour markets is resulting in depopulation, ageing, low population retention, unfavourable economic structures with the risk of unemployment but at the same time skills gaps and labour shortage.
Specific objective: “Accessible and inclusive quality services in education, training and lifelong learning”
The integration of an individuial into the labour market, their socio-economic well being, ongoing development and value to their society and region is highly dependent on their education and skills, vocational education and training and lifelong learning. There are good education models within the Danube Region to facilitate this but at the same time there are many regions that lack accessible, inclusive and effective structures and models to develop their human capital which contributes to regional imbalances and negative trends e.g. out migration, skills gaps and unemployment. It is fundamental therefore that the provider systems are accessible and inclusive and tailored to the level and background of individuals whilst at the same time providing relevant and recognised training and qualifications for the Danube Region employers and beyond.
Specific objective: "Enhancing the role of culture and sustainable tourism in economic development, social inclusion and social innovation"
The Danube Region is characterised by an outstanding cultural diversity that over the centuries has left a rich legacy of intangible and tangible heritage that is often not recognised for its potential towards economic development, social inclusion and social innovation. Generally, major cities have, to varying degrees, acknowledged and sought to use this value, whilst smaller communities in rural and remote areas have not, even though they have a great potential in valorising their diverse heritage towards increasing the well-being of their communities. Many of the remote, rural areas and smaller settlements are confronted with a lack of in-depth recognition of the heritage and cultural assets value potential that they have and miss inclusive strategic planning to guide and coordinate its valorisation. Part of the problem lies in the historically limited access to cultural and heritage assets and initiatives, both in a geographical and a socially inclusive sense in the Danube region. Efforts should therefore be made to make these assets and initiatives available to all, even if this can be a challenging process for minorities and rural and remote areas. With experience across 14 countries, transnational cooperation can support this with jointly developed valorisation and touristic models and solutions in rural, remote areas and smaller cities. This based on the existing heritage and culture and underpinned from the strong involvement of all parts of the local community.
Priority 4 “A Better Cooperation Governance”
Specific objective: "Increased institutional capacities for territorial and macro-regional governance"
Comprising 14 countries - old and new Member States, candidate countries, a potential candidate and neighbourhood countries - the Danube Region is characterized by distinct administrative fragmentation and low level of institutional integration. Lagging behind legal harmonization and limited capacities of public bodies to engage into transnational cooperation, especially on sub-national levels, are substantially hindering integrated territorial developments along shared functional ties.
The programme proposes the following (non exhaustive) types of measures:
P1: A more competitive and smarter Danube Region
- SO 1.1: Developing and enhancing research and innovation capacities and the uptake of advanced technologies
- RDI related transnational policies and processes for closing innovation gaps and towards the uptake of innovation and advanced technologies e. g. nanotechnologies, advanced materials, advanced manufacturing and processing (production technologies) and biotechnology.
- Transnational RDI related activities for capacity building along thematic value chains.
- Technology transfer and technology uptake towards and from SMEs and improved access to quadruple transnational research and innovation infrastructures with macro-regional significance.
- Circular economy policies and processes in specific related domains e. g. electronics and ICT batteries and vehicles, packaging, plastics, textiles, construction and buildings, food and nutrients.
- Developing smart, sustainable and green transport technologies and networks, as well as e-mobility solutions.
- Integration of smart cities and smart regions solutions in the planning, management and development of Danube Region territory and cities.
- SO 1.2: Developing skills for smart specialisation, industrial transition and entrepreneurship
- Skills development for and of joint advancement of smart specialisation strategies and policies including a special focus on less advanced regions.
- Skills development and cross sectorial collaborations between smart industries and traditional type of industries for industrial transformation and transition towards industry 4.0, robotisation, mechatronics, digital technologies (including internet of things, artificial intelligence and creative industries).
- Skills development for delivering products and services with transnational impact.
P2: A greener, low-carbon Danube Region
- SO 2.1: Promoting renewable energy in accordance with Renewable Energy Directive (EU) 2018/2001, including the sustainability criteria set out therein
- Increasing the share of renewable energy in the Danube region.
- Decreasing carbon intensity in the power and transport sectors.
- SO 2.2: Promoting climate change adaptation and disaster risk prevention, resilience taking into account eco-system based approaches
- Supporting harmonised, joint capacities and data availability in Danube Region scale climate change forecasting and vulnerability assessment to support policy making and awareness raising.
- Supporting harmonised, coordinated, joint disaster prevention, preparedness and response activities on environmental risks, on floods, droughts, or accidental pollution of rivers on transnational river(-basin) scale and climate-change related other disasters (e. g. wildfires, heat waves).
- Strengthen the preparedness and adaptive capacity of the society (including also disaster management organisations, volunteer rescue teams), economy and nature to cope with impacts of climate change and establish climate services to foster the resilience.
- SO 2.3: Promoting access to water and sustainable water management
- Strengthening capacities for prevention and mitigation of water pollution or for restoration of good quality of transnational water bodies.
- Harmonising management practises between water management, agriculture, environment, navigation, hydropower and flood protection to improve the quality and quantity of water and sediment in transnational river systems, taking into consideration the potential impacts of climate change.
- Transnational coordination of water supply management, especially in relation to basin-wide importance of groundwater bodies.
- SO 2.4: Enhancing protection and preservation of nature, biodiversity and green infrastructure, including in urban areas, and reducing all forms of pollution
- Transnational cooperation for the improvement of ecological connectivity between habitats, nature protection areas along transnationally relevant ecological corridors of the Danube Region and for transnational conservation and restoration measures for endangered umbrella species as well.
- Creation and strengthening of networks of cooperation in relation to the ecological regions and among protected areas.
- Coordinated and harmonised measures within transnationally relevant ecological regions ensuring resilience and adaptation to climate change to reduce its impacts on biodiversity.
P3: A more social Danube Region
- SO 3.1: Enhancing the effectiveness and inclusiveness of labour markets and access to quality employment through developing social infrastructure and promoting social economy
- The integration of vulnerable groups into the labour market, with special attention on regions that display high proportions of disadvantaged.
- Retaining skilled labour and developing a more sustainable migration of educated people.
- Capacity building for employment support bodies (information and data systems; coordination; training e. g. in social economy).
- SO 3.2: Improving equal access to inclusive and quality services in education, training and lifelong learning through developing accessible infrastructure, including by fostering resilience for distance and on-line education and training
- Developing innovative educational models, programs, practical tools and materials for disadvantaged learners, including early school leavers.
- Maximising the use of existing knowledge and experience to develop best practices in inclusive education policy and advancing education and policy reform.
- Innovative approaches to encourage and improve inclusive vocational education and training and life-long learning.
- SO 3.3: Enhancing the role of culture and sustainable tourism in economic development, social inclusion and social innovation
- Valorisation of local cultural and natural heritage for the development of sustainable tourism products and tourism services in order to increase regional added value and employment.
- Improvement of accessibility of cultural and natural heritage for all, amongst others youth and vulnerable groups in order to promote social inclusion.
- Promoting community led natural and cultural heritage management and associated nature based and cultural tourism in rural areas and small cities.
P4: A better cooperation governance in the Danube Region
- SO 4.1: Enhance institutional capacity of public authorities and stakeholders to implement macro-regional strategies and sea-basin strategies, as well as other territorial strategies (all strands)
- Integrated governance models for addressing challenges arising from demographic change (e. g. aging, depopulation, brain drain);
- Integrated urban-rural governance models including specific territorial development strategies for rural/remote areas as well as accessibility aspects and transport bottlenecks;
- Support for more and stronger inter-institutional relations for the integrated development of transboundary functional areas;
- Capacity building considering especially a better involvement of local and regional public bodies as well as civic actors in transnational policy making, territorial development frameworks and governance models;
- Support for the monitoring and analysis of territorial processes affecting the cohesion and cooperation of the Danube Region to assist capacity building and institutional capacity