The Danube
Danube and Europe
Living Force

Professor Laurence Mee

The scale and complexity of the interconnections that link
and divide modern human society result in a huge number of
dilemmas that the human mind seems poorly equipped to handle.
As we struggle to resolve these dilemmas one by one, we frequently
miss the "big picture" - and a solution to one problem
may lead us directly to another. Hapless victims of ourselves,
we are reassured that "market forces" will lead
us blindly forward and that economic growth and technology
will cover the trail of problems generated by our frequent
blunders. Taking stock of the situation is becoming increasingly
difficult as the space in our lives is constrained by the
overpowering noise of our new means of communication. The
opportunity provided by the Religion, Science and the Environment
Symposia, to pause, reflect, and take a broader vision is
a rare and particularly welcome one.

The presentations in this theme illustrated five viewpoints
on some of these dilemmas, from global to regional in scope.

Nikolaos Mouzelis examined the social and environmental
consequences of globalisation; not an entirely new phenomenon
but one that has only become the dominant economic paradigm
in the last decade. On the surface, there appears to be a
deep division between those who believe that globalisation
will gradually "ramp up" the economies of poorer
countries and those who contend that it only serves to further
exploit the poor in order to satisfy the insatiable greed
of the rich. Whilst acknowledging the widening gap between
rich and poor, Mouzelis suggests that a new global social
pact is possible; a post-materialist third way that offers
hope to the deprived without exhausting the fragile natural
capital and functioning of the world's ecosystems. Mouzelis'
argument deserves careful attention; little can be achieved
by wallowing in doom and gloom. His faith in younger generations
is as refreshing as a shower of rain in the desert sun and,
in offering hope, he issues a profound challenge in which
we all share responsibility.

The short presentation by MrJernej Stritih on moral
choices and economic and technical development presented a
starker dilemma. Stritih examined changing moral values, particularly
in what he perceives as an abrupt transition from totalitarianism
to consumerism in Central and Eastern Europe. Certainly, few
of us who have passed much of the last decade in the region
cannot fail to recognise the open sores of excessive consumerism
or the despair of those who perceive its social and environmental
consequences. However, some of us would contend that the poorly
managed transition often exploited the darker side of human
nature without building the positive side. It is difficult
to accept Stritih's judgement that respect for nature and
life has been lost in industrialised nations. If such a change
had polarised the world, the environmental movement would
have no reason to exist; there would be no positivity to build
upon. Happily, like Mouzelis, Stritih emphasised the role
of younger generations; preserving their freedom of choice
is indeed a sensible pathway and setting a positive example
is another.

Patricia Birnie's dilemma stemed from the changing
expectations of international law. By tracing almost 150 years
of development of international law in the Danube, she examined
the widening of legal concepts from principles including equity
and co-operation and practices such as command-control regulations,
to the concept of sustainable development and the precautionary
principle. Incorporating the more recent yet loosely defined
concepts into law poses a dilemma to lawmakers. Birnie is
optimistic that this is already occurring and cites the reference
to sustainable development in the 1997 decision of the International
Court of Justice in the Dam Case Concerning the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros
Project as a landmark step forward in environmental protection.

Helmut Kroiss posed another important dilemma, again
citing the powerful example of the river that safely carried
the Symposium on its historical journey. He is confident that
the technology to solve the pollution problems of the river
exists but observes that its application in some countries
requires political motivation and financial resources that
have yet to be mobilised. These in turn depend on the existence
of favourable social and economic conditions. It is this appreciation
of the need to improve understanding of the interconnectivity
of values, social behaviour and economics that linked this
presentation with its predecessors. Kroiss provided compelling
evidence of the progress of environmental protection in Austria
and Germany in the past two decades but was careful not to
use this to condemn the efforts of the less developed downstream
neighbours of the Danube and Black Sea. Effective decrease
in pollution will require decades of sustained action at the
technical, economic and cultural level, he contends, and this
action will be co-operative and involve "everyone".

Mr Joachim Bendow further pursued the dilemma posed
by Kroiss and offered practical solutions. He suggested that
there was no room for complacency in any of the Danube countries
and illustrated his case with the example of the loss of nitrogen
and phosphorus from the land to the river, a phenomenon that
generates huge environmental problems in the downstream reservoirs
and the Black Sea. Locally acceptable solutions to some countries'
problems of waste disposal may have negative consequences
far away. Unless the problem of unsustainable development
is tackled by the whole region acting in unity, it cannot
be resolved. In this context, he cited the enormous recent
progress in regional co-operation, culminating in the adoption
of the Danube Pollution Reduction Programme. This programme
involves a scale of major investments that requires wider
European support if it is to become a foundation stone of
a new society.

Wolfgang Stalzer, who finalised this section, saw
the emerging political architecture of Europe, hand in hand
with the International Commission for the Protection of the
Danube River, as offering a positive solution to the problems
of the Danube. He is encouraged by new European legislation,
particularly the Water Framework Directive. On one hand this
offers a more integrative cross-sectoral framework for action
but on the other it takes into account the need for countries
to base water protection around the geographical boundaries
of river basins rather than the political boundaries of the
Member States themselves. He posed a series of political and
technical challenges that must be overcome to make this integrated
approach an effective one for ensuring the harmonious development
of the Danube region.

Though each author described a dilemma of modern society
from a unique perspective, all share elements of optimism.
Each tunnel has a light shining at the end, often expressed
through faith in humanity to protect and foster the interests
of its new generations. Although this reasoning is human-centred,
it also requires the protection of nature as well as its wise
use for humanity's needs. The development and nurturing of
wisdom must be quintessential to post-materialist society
if its dilemmas are to be resolved. Technical knowledge alone
will not suffice if we are to build a new and caring society.

Globalisation, poverty and environmental degradation (Professor Nikolaos Mouzelis)
Moral choices and economic and technological development (Mr Jernej Stritih)
International rivers: responsibility and common concern (Professor Patricia Birnie)
Water quality and development in the Danube region (Professor Helmut Kroiss)
Conflicting interests and regional cooperation (Mr Joachim Bendow)
International river basin management for the protection of the Danube River (Dr Wolfgang Stalzer)