Danube Blues and Yellows
Many of us will have grown up knowing that piece of music “Blue Danube”. Like many recognisable classical pieces of music it’s been appropriated by various advertising campaigns and the like. It’s even appeared in computer games. For some it is the river they have grown up alongside, a background to their youth, some of whom I hope are Liberals.
Of course the river itself is the longest and one of the most influential in Europe. It acts as a border, a conduit and water source. With this though it brings its own challenges and opportunities which our generation will need to deal with better than our forbearers.
Recognising this ELF, the European Liberal Forum, sponsored an event to discuss the “EU Strategy for the Danube region”, which I attended as an observer from LYMEC.
Coming from an island where water has been divisive for not just generations but millennia, it has been interesting to see the different opportunities that it has provided to others. The Danube flows through many countries and it’s effects are diverse, with even non-bordering countries keen to be engaged because of the economic and social benefits. Whether this will be a symbiotic relationship is harder to define, but the event helped to make clear that there must be a multiple country, multiple party interest.
Missing the boat…
With strategies already in place, some of the parliamentarians at least already on board and a general tide in the right direction, was the event really needed? Was it focussed on the right people?
Perhaps not, it became clear during the proceedings that whilst there is still a real need to bring together the parliamentarians and specialists from the Danube region, it is also the “others” who need to be more fully engaged. These are the civil servants, the public administrative officers who are there day in and day out, regardless of some of the changes in the political landscape. The businesses which rely and hopefully can thrive on the banks of the Danube. The academics who study and help inform us both of the history of the area, and the potential futures. And finally the NGOs who look after it’s well being now, through environmental actions and the engagement of young people.
These had limited representation at the event and a lot more needs to be done. Maybe this is where we, as young liberals from across the region can get interested and involved. As even the ex-Prime minister and King of Bulgaria who had founded the NDSV (in English the National Movement for Stability and Prosperity) said – they are already elder statesmen!
Water feature or threat – the young need to decide
As Liberals we have a strong record of defending environmental and economic causes in many countries and internationally. Equally our concerns about the waters of the Danube were reflected in many different ways. This married together the concerns about environmental accidents with the desire to exploit the economic benefits. For example by promoting ecological tourism along the length of the Danube. Some areas have benefitted from being virtually untouched due to their historical military role, but these hangovers also created hindrances, where for example some areas photography is still illegal.
So with a common cause it raises an interesting question as to whether this sort of grouping within LYMEC might have some value. We are used to working and thinking in language groupings, in geographical groupings, with attempts at regional collectives, but in some cases these have faded over time as perhaps for some they lacked a real purpose other than to bring together neighbours.
Could an action based grouping be the way forward?
Could a “LYMEC network of the Danube Region” actually help to bring together the future politicians in a common cause? There are some clear outcomes which could be achieved and an answer to the classic question of “What’s in it for me?” It might represent a way to engage other young people and not just the usual suspects who are naturally internationally minded.
Which port next?
Listening to the initial introduction it was very telling to see that one of the first notes made by a young colleague sat next to me was two simple words: “No funding”.
There is a danger that, as was noted, senior politicians had taken three years to come up with a strategy, which by necessity was non-contentious, and yet still there was only limited action. This was reflected by the lower attendance at the second half of the event which focused more on the future. This was frustrating as the speakers came from the business sector, from local municipalities, and they highlighted that in many cases they had already reached the limitations of their abilities and that it was now the governments that needed to come on board. In many cases this represented a lost opportunity to engage more fully and as one of the MEPs noted, “It’s not at the centre of politics because for many the river is equally not in the centre of their countries.” This needs to change if we are to protect and enhance it’s opportunities.
Already there are discussions that the debate will continue and another event convened in a years time, probably in Bucharest, the other side of the water. The real issue is whether anything will have changed on the ground, or whether it will fall solely to us as the liberal politicians of the future to ensure that the benefits of the water are realised.
Allan Siao Ming Witherick is a LYMEC IMS member and attended the ELF supported event on behalf of LYMEC, European Liberal Youth