188. One of the most important development issues
facing the region is the clearance of the Danube, which was closed
by the destruction of bridges in Novi Sad during the NATO bombing
campaign. The Milosevic regime then refused to cooperate with
the clearance of debris from the river, and at this time the Danube
remains closed to commercial traffic. The new administration in
Belgrade brought a new attitude towards the Danube Commission,
and expressions of interest have now been requested for projects
to clear the river.
Charles Crawford told us that re-opening "the Danube will
make an enormous difference."
In 1996, 50m tonnes of cargo
was carried on the Danube, down from 113m tonnes in 1990.
These figures reveal the extent to which trade will be stimulated
by the restoration of navigation, and peace in the region. The
Danube is connected to the Rhine by canal, and its closure has
therefore affected trade across Europe. The EU will pay 85 per
cent of the total cost of the restoration of navigability, up
to a ceiling of £13m.
The FCO informed us that the Danube should be open to commercial
traffic in summer 2001.
Trade Partners UK have supported the installation of a new water
pipeline across the new Varadin bridge in Novi Sad which is being
built to replace the bridge destroyed during the NATO campaign
189. We heard during our visit to Novi Sad that there
was concern about delays in the work on the clearance of the Danube.
The FCO notes that work will not start until the spring, when
water levels have fallen, and that the EU has moved rapidly to
push the project forward, by for example drafting several of the
tenders in advance and by reducing deadlines under EU procurement
rules to a minimum.
We also heard during our visit that the Danube Commission was
dealing only with the Federal Government in Belgrade, while the
future of the river is of course important for Vojvodina as well
as the Federal Government, particularly as the obstacles to the
restoration of navigability lie in Vojvodina. We recommend
that the FCO and Trade Partners United Kingdom remain in close
touch with the Danube Commission and update the Committee on progress
on clearing the Danube to commercial traffic.