ECONOMY

Free navigation on Rhine and Danube?

The full liberalization of commercial shipping routes on the Rhine and Danube rivers through the EU program TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe, Caucasus, Asia) could be a crucial step toward finding new waterways for carrying products to and from Europe. Greek bodies are also involved. «In its policy, Greece is taking care to ensure a dynamic presence in international fora and the strengthening of the position of our merchant marine,» Yiannis Tzoannos, general secretary of the Merchant Marine Ministry, told Kathimerini. The project is now on the cards as countries which used to belong to the eastern bloc are now EU members or candidates or wish to have good trade and economic relations with the EU. It would mean, shipping sources told Kathimerini, that a vessel would be able to enter from the port of Rotterdam and, via the Rhine and the Danube, end up in the Black Sea and vice versa. As well as opening up new navigation corridors and markets, stations for the refueling and support of commercial riverboats would also be built. The navigation status of ships along the Rhine and the Danube, including the whole navigable section from Ulm to the Black Sea, was free until 1948, without restrictions on flags, as stipulated by the Paris Conference of 1921, to which Greece was also a signatory. However, in 1948, at the Belgrade Convention, the 1921 treaty was annulled by the then Eastern European states and the free movement of ships along the two rivers was banned. From the outset, Greece said that revisions of international treaties should not be accepted as the principle of free movement of ships along navigable routes of international interest, such as the Danube, was essential for the survival of Greek maritime shipping. Nowadays, when political change in Eastern European states has created a new economic, commercial and political state of affairs, the question arises whether the TRACECA program will push along the process for the freedom of navigation along the two rivers so that new water corridors are opened for ships, regardless of flags, or whether a state of protectionism will continue as it is today.