Searching for balance in inland water transport


ICPDR Danube Watch: A two-year Twinning Project on EU Water Framework Directive implementation,
pairing Croatia with Germany as senior twinning partner and the Netherlands as
junior partner, has addressed environmental issues to ensure sustainable solutions
for water management.

Searching for balance in inland water transport

The Danube River is one of the most important transportation corridors in Europe. But how do we juggle the current EU plans for developing this transportation corridor while ensuring the protection of the Danube environment?

Karla Peijs is the European Commission’s Coordinator for Inland Waterborne Transport, and has also served as Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Water Management in the Netherlands for 14 years.

In this edition of Danube Watch, we had an interview with Karla Peijs, the European Commission’s Coordinator for Inland Waterborne Transport.

Danube Watch: Why is the Danube important?
The Danube River is part of the TEN-T (Trans-European Transport Network) Priority Project 18, which means that it has been identified as an important possibility for environmentally friendly transport. This TEN-T Corridor I look after is very important for the emerging economies in the region, with their booming transport needs and no doubt future of congested areas. While taking care of the environment, the transport needs will be served without constructing too many roads and railways. Moreover, because the Danube connects ten nation states there can be some difficulties between states or regions. As former Minister of Transport in The Netherlands and member of the European Parliament, the European Commission asked me to try to help to solve such disagreements.

Danube Watch: Is the ICPDR your logical counterpart?
Absolutely! We can’t deal only with IWT (Inland Waterway Transport) operators. With organisations like the ICPDR we can achieve better results for IWT and for the environment. The Joint Statement process is a good example. We believe in this process because it sets the conditions for mutual trust between people who are not used to listening to and working with each other. So you find that ICPDR is a natural partner for us in the Danube region…as long as we have the same objective in the end: the Danube as the beautiful river it ever was, but at the same time an important transport route with respect for the environment in waterworks and ships.

The Danube is certainly capable of supporting sustainable Inland Waterway Transport. You can see the advantages for the environment if you look at the whole basin of the river. In the process we need the Joint Statement to make it crystal clear to all parties that we want to reach our goal, yes. But certainly not by destroying everything the ICPDR (and we) stands for. Therefore, in the works that are needed to make the navigation possible, we follow strict European legislation, and the ICPDR can help us there, because it is not always easy to estimate what is best for rivers in terms of a combination of economic and environmental impact.

Danube Watch: Do ships have to adapt to river conditions instead of rebuilding rivers to fit to certain types of ships?
Certainly we have to use technology in order to better adapt the ships and to reduce the impact of navigation on the living habitat of the rivers to the minimum. In this sense we can and must work for lighter fuels, more efficient engines, control of waste and the use of effective operations, for instance River Information Services for improved safety, improved security, and reduced waiting time and consequently unnecessary emissions, and so on. If it is true that IWT is a ‘green’ mode of transport, it is also true that it has to be attractive for operators otherwise they will certainly chose a more efficient one, even if it is more polluting. Moreover, ‘Danube-ships’ may not be able to reach ports like Rotterdam or Hamburg, because of these different features. That will limit their markets and give them a disadvantage compared to others.

I don’t believe in the contraposition between ecology and economy. A good economy takes into account an ecological balance. Of course both parties have to be prepared for trade offs, otherwise again the operators will chose another mode, and will pollute more. We take the environmental costs into account in total balance sheet.

Danube Watch: While cruise ship numbers on the Danube have been booming over the last 15 years, cargo transport has remained rather stable at modest volumes. How do you see the future market development?
Cruise ships request lower draught, and ports for passengers are already good co-modal points. For freight transportation on water to be successful, it has to be attractive and competitive with the other modes of transport. To achieve this we need a reliable waterway, which is navigable for most of the year round; we need equipped ports that have to function as intermodal points with rail and/or roads for an efficient transfer along the river and then to the final port of destination.

Danube Watch: There are various plans to deepen the fairway in order to improve navigability, from Bavaria to the Danube Delta. Critics say these TEN-T projects are not coordinated with the environment protection needs, such as EU Natura 2000 system and the Water Framework Directive. What is your objective in this field?
: Our objective is to achieve a coherent approach and a coherent implementation of different EU legislation – transport, development but mainly environmental legislation. Once more I believe that the Joint Statement approach is the correct one; the active participation of environmental groups in the process has given it the right importance and value. But you won’t hear me say that it is easy. It is a very complex process.

Danube Watch: What is your vision for the Danube in 2050?
As I stated at the Ministerial Conference in Stockholm, I believe that the macro-region approach started by the EU is the right way to proceed with a pragmatic and a visionary approach: pragmatic in order to focus on urgent matters and on the real needs of the local population that live in the concerned region. This will lead to tackling issues of primary importance like infrastructure, housing and job opportunities.

But it is also the right visionary approach to keep the direction towards the realisation of a multiethnic, multilingual and multicultural European Union while protecting the environment and creating economic growth.

So, I hope there will be a lot of ships on the Danube and a lot of sturgeons and other fauna in the water. We are searching for the balance, nothing less!

Danube Watch: Thank you very much!

Alexander Zinke is a management consultant for environment based in Vienna, and manages navigation issues for the ICPDR Secretariat.