The Danube Strategy


BUDAPEST/BERLIN/ULM (Own report) - The Hungarian government has announced a "Danube Summit Meeting" for next month to implement the - German inspired - "Danube Strategy". Following in depth talks in Berlin, the Hungarian foreign minister announced that the "Danube Summit" will be held in Budapest at the end of February. The summit will prepare closer ties of the Danube region to the EU's hegemonic power, which should be adopted, as the EU's Danube Strategy, during Hungary's EU Council presidency in the first half of 2011. The Hungarian government's Danube activities are in line with demands of German economic interests, seeking to significantly extend their range of activities into their traditional region of expansion. Bavarian trade with countries along the Danube, beyond Austria, already surpasses its trade with France or China. Due to the predominant position of German companies in Hungary, Budapest is now benefiting from serving German economic interests. To demonstrate the economic dependence of his country, the Hungarian ambassador explained that "when Germany sneezes, Hungary is already bedridden." The close German-Hungarian cooperation ostentatiously reinforces Budapest's position - which this spring could lead to serious tensions in Eastern Europe. The April parliamentary elections could bring an authoritarian government to power that uses aggressive, ethno chauvinist, anti-Semitic intonations.

Ulm on the Danube

Plans for the Danube strategy, which Hungary is currently trying to implement, have their origins in German expansion projects. The project focuses on opening up the region along the Danube - a traditional region of German economic expansion [1] - to more profitable German business. The German federal land Baden Wuerttemberg and the city of Ulm, on the banks of the Danube, are in charge of the project. Already in the 1990s, Ulm was making cultural policy inroads with the countries along the Danube. For nearly ten years the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Ulm has been involved in Danube projects, being implemented at various levels including infrastructure policy or even administrative facilitations. It was the city of Ulm that initiated the founding of a Council of the Danube Cities and Regions, which was implemented June 11, 2009 in Budapest, with the mayor of Ulm being the first council chairman.[2] Ulm, together with the federal state of Baden Wuerttemberg, also inspired the idea of devising a Danube strategy to be placed on a par with other regional strategies, such as the Baltic Sea or Mediterranean Strategies, and to become eligible for EU funding. In June 2009, the European Council adopted the German demand for a Danube strategy. At the beginning of February a "Kick-Off-Conference" will be held in Ulm. In the first half of 2011, during the Hungarian government's presidency of the EU Council, the strategy is scheduled for final adoption.

In Need of Investments

There is no doubt about who benefits most from better economic access to the Danube region. This can be seen in the example of another German federal state, Bavaria, which has recently been developing numerous activities in the Danube region. Bavaria's trade volume with countries along the Danube, east of Austria, was around 19.8 billion Euros in 2008, which is more than the trade volume with France (18.7 billion Euros) or China (18.5 billion Euros). Bavaria's number one trade partner is Austria, also a Danube nation, (27.7 billion Euros). "Many of the Danube countries have a great need to catch up on investments" [3] explained the Bavarian Minister for European Affairs, Emilia Mueller, "the Bavarian economy can help them." Bavaria invited "six groups of decision makers from countries along the Danube (...)" within the framework of a cooperation program this year, and established "contacts to branches such as energy or mechanical engineering". Mueller considers that with the elaboration of cooperation with countries along the Danube, there is no "danger" that this will merely "make the competition stronger." Germany benefits even from an upswing, for example in Slovakia "in the automobile subsidiary branch alone, Bavarian companies of all car models, producing in Slovakia, would profit."

The Junior Partner

Budapest has recently become the most active promoter of the Danube strategy, of course in close collaboration with Berlin. This benefits both. As junior partner, Hungary can have an advantage over the rest of the Danube countries. This allows Germany, which maintains a tight control of the cooperation, to make it appear as if the Danube strategy is also a Hungarian initiative, hiding its own predominance over the project. When, at two conferences at the end of September and the beginning of October at the Representative Office of the Hungarian Regions in Brussels, the Hungarian partner undertook initial steps for the elaboration of a strategy, the leader of the Danube Office in Ulm took the floor on each occasion. At the end of November, the Danube strategy was one of the most important themes of the German-Hungarian Forum, an annual conference for the coordination of views on these cooperation projects. The announcement that Hungary would host a Danube Summit at the end of February, to press the project forward, was made by the Hungarian foreign minister, Péter Balázs, only after his meeting with his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, on December 11, where Balázs presented his plan to Westerwelle to insure Berlin's approbation, while extending a personal invitation to the German Chancellor to attend the Danube Summit.[4]

Dependent Interests

In the meantime, the level of EU development even gives the impression that it is in Hungary's interests to serve Berlin's interests. Hungary's economy is highly dependent on German enterprises. ( reported.[5]) When they boom, the primary prerequisite is fulfilled for Hungary's economy to thrive. If Germany goes into a crisis, Hungary falters dramatically. The Hungarian ambassador to Berlin recently demonstrated his country's dependency "back home, we say: 'when Germany sneezes, Hungary is already bedridden.'"[6] This already behooves every Hungarian government to show great sensitivity toward German wishes, while Berlin further entices the role of subservience with promises of allowing Budapest to provide the local leadership personnel in the German region of expansion. The German federal lands, Baden Wuerttemberg and Bavaria, are promoting the Gyula Andrássy University in Budapest, which is where leadership cadre for Eastern Europe - above all from Hungary - are being trained, in courses in German.[7] A center is now being created at this university to place the Danube strategy on a scientific foundation.[8]

Authoritarian Domination

The fact that Berlin has chosen Hungary as its junior partner for the implementation of the Danube strategy and other hegemonic plans [9] could lead to serious tensions in eastern Europe this spring. According to all prognoses, the Fidesz Party will probably come to power in the next Hungarian parliamentary elections in April. Fidesz adheres to an aggressive ethnic chauvinist policy that has not only usurped the Hungarian-speaking minorities of neighboring nations as "Hungarians abroad" but also domestically caused serious dissention and attracted attention most recently through anti-Semitic intonations. ( reported.[10]) Critics are predicting that a Fidesz electoral victory will mean "a protracted period of authoritarian rule for Hungary."[11] That Berlin's junior partner, who can be assured of Germany's backing, will become a country with an authoritarian, aggressive ethnic chauvinist government, is a bad omen for Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

[1] see also Klaus Thörner: "Der ganze Südosten ist unser Hinterland"
[2] see also From the Black Forest to the Black Sea
[3] Branchen sollen besser zueinanderfinden; Bayerische Staatszeitung 23.10.2009
[4] Chancellor Angela Merkel receives invitation to attend February Danube Summit in Budapest - the Foreign Minister's talks in Berlin; 11.12.2009
[5] see also Ein Zeichen der Freundschaft and Berlin's Poison-Pen Letter
[6] "Orbán könnte den 'harten' Ungarn machen"; 12.11.2009
[7] see also Deutschsprachige "Elite" für Mittel- und Osteuropa and Sonderstellung
[8] Die Donauregion fest im Blick; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 18.12.2009
[9] Hungary, in the aftermath of the war in Bosnia Herzegovina, made itself available for the implementation of the German plans for the reorganization of Southeast Europe through the so-called Szeged Process. Today it is offering to play a particularly active role in binding the so-called Western Balkan nations to the EU.
[10] see also Völkisch radikalisiert and "Lebensraum Karpatenbecken"
[11] Gregor Mayer: Versinkt Ungarn im Faschismus? Populist Viktor Orban greift nach der Macht; 14.12.2009