International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

Danube River Basin

The Danube River Basin is shared by nineteen countries, covering approximately 801,463 square kilometers. The Danube River Basin extends from the origination of the Danube River in Germany to the Romanian and Ukrainian shores along the Danube Delta and the Black Sea.



The Danube River Basin has been governed by multilateral agreements and various forms of international administration almost continuously since 1856. The history of bilateral treaties governing the basin stretches back even further. These historical treaties and agreements largely focused on improving navigation, flood control, hydro power, and commerce along the region’s waterways.

Currently, the non-navigational use of waterways in the Danube River Basin is governed by the Convention on Cooperation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the Danube (the “Convention” or “DRPC”), signed on 29 June 1994 in Sofia, Bulgaria. The DRPC, which entered into force in October 1998, is the overall legal instrument for cooperation and transboundary water management in the Danube River Basin, with the main objective of ensuring that the surface waters and groundwater within the Danube River Basin are managed and used on a sustainable and equitable basis. To accomplish these objectives, the DRPC established the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (“ICPDR” or “Commission”).

Overall, the DRPC was an outgrowth of earlier commitments made by the riparian states to address the region’s environmental problems. These commitments began with the 1985 Bucharest Declaration, which committed the states to developing an integrated water management system. Six years later, further commitments were made to strengthen cooperation in the basin through the Environmental Programme for the Danube River Basin (“EPDRB”), a program requiring each state to adopt or define uniform monitoring systems, laws on liability for cross-border pollution, rules for the protection of wetland environments, and guidelines for the conservation of areas of ecological or aesthetic importance or value. The EPDRB also required the development and maintenance of a Strategic Action Plan (“SAP”) listing concrete measures and short-term goals. When this plan was completed, the newly-established ICPDR was entrusted with its implementation.

In addition to the ICPDR, states in the Danube River Basin are also signatories to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Epsoo Convention, the U.N. Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, the European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance (AGN), and the European Union (“EU”) Water Framework Directive (“WFD”).


The DRPC and ICPDR Contracting Parties are Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, and Ukraine. The EU is also a Contracting Party of the DRPC and ICPDR. In addition, countries in the catchment area of the Danube River Basin that cooperate with the ICPDR under the EU Water Framework Directive include Albania, Italy, Macedonia, Poland, and Switzerland.


The Danube River Basin is shared by nineteen countries, covering approximately 801,463 square kilometers. The Danube River Basin extends from the origination of the Danube River in Germany to the Romanian and Ukrainian shores along the Danube Delta and the Black Sea.


The DRPC established the ICPDR to implement the Convention’s objectives and provisions, with the Convention providing that the Contracting Parties “shall cooperate in the framework” of the ICPDR. Article 18 and Annex IV (the Statute of the ICPDR) of the DRPC establish the structures and procedures of the Commission. The Statute of the ICPDR specifically sets forth the ICPDR’s legal capacity and representation, giving it “such legal capacity as may be necessary for the exercise of its functions and the fulfillment of its purposes in accordance with the law applicable at the headquarters of its Secretariat.” Headquartered in Vienna, Austria, the ICPDR is recognized to have the legal capacity “(a) to contract; (b) to acquire and dispose of immovable and movable property; (c) to institute or respond to legal proceedings; and (d) to take such other action as may be necessary or useful for its purposes and activities.” The ICPDR is represented by its President, with representation further determined by the ICPDR’s rules of procedure.


The ICPDR is tasked with implementing the DRPC and its goals generally include: protecting the Danube Basin’s water resources for future generations by preserving the natural balance of those waters, addressing risks from toxic chemicals, preventing the environmental and ecological damages caused by floods, and maintaining the heath and sustainability of the region’s river systems. To accomplish these goals, the ICPDR has initiated or supported the following basin-wide programs and projects:

  • The Danube Pollution Reduction Programme (1997-1999): An outgrowth of the original United Nations Development Programme (“UNDP”) – Global Environment Facility (“GEF”) efforts in connection with the ratification of the DRPC and the creation of the ICPDR, this UNDP-GEF supported program involved several studies into water pollution problems across the basin. The information from these studies was used to set priorities for addressing pollution problems in the region. This included dividing the basin into specific sub-river basins for the region and creating a comprehensive ICPDR information system cataloging: information related to pollution problems; local projects addressing those problems; and potential sources of financing for such projects.
  • The Joint Action Programme (“JAP”) (2001-2005): This program outlined steps to be taken from 2001-2005 to achieve the environmental objectives outlined in the Convention. As part of the JAP, countries invested more than 4.404 billion euros in large-scale measures intended for pollution reduction, wetland conservation, restoring the ecosystem, and sustainable environmental management. The JAP Final Report was produced in 2006.
  • The Danube Regional Project (“DRP”) (2002-2006): The UNDP-GEF launched the five-year DRP for “Strengthening the Implementation Capacities for Nutrient Reduction and Transboundary Cooperation in the Danube River Basin.” This project, carried out in two phases, was intended to complement the activities of the ICPDR. The first phase was focused on basin-wide capacity-building with “particular attention to the development and implementation of policies for pollution reduction, effective legal and economic instruments, mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation, the creation of inter-ministerial committees as well as the development of programmes for public participation and NGO strengthening.” The second phase was intended to “set up institutional and legal instruments at the national and regional level to assure nutrient reduction and sustainable management of water bodies and ecological resources, involving all stakeholders and building up adequate monitoring and information systems.”
  • The Joint Danube Surveys (“JDS”): In 2001, the ICPDR initiated a survey (JDS1) to analyze the water quality and ecological status of the Danube River in order to “improve the validity and comparability of water quality data received from its regular monitoring programme (Trans-National Monitoring Network).” This survey was followed by a second survey (JDS2) to “produce comparable and reliable information on water quality for the entire Danube and many of its tributaries.” The results were to be used to determine what measures would need to be taken to comply with EU law by 2015 and to implement the DRPC.
  • The Flood Action Programme (“FAP”): Developed in 2004 in the wake of the extensive damage caused by floods to the Danube River Basin in 2002, the ICPDR has developed and started to implement a comprehensive plan concerning flood prevention, protection, and warning across the basin. By the end of 2009, the ICPDR had adopted seventeen flood action plans for all of the sub-basins in the Danube catchment area that are based on 45 national planning documents.
  • The Danube River Basin Management Plan (2009): This comprehensive management plan “outlines concrete measures to be implemented by the year 2015 to improve the environmental condition of the Danube and its tributaries.” The DRPC Contracting Parties nominated the ICPDR as the coordinating body for the development of a comprehensive management plan using the EU Water Framework Directive principles. The DRBM Plan will be updated every six years, according to EU legislation. The plan, finalized in December 2009, was adopted at the 16 February 2010 Ministerial Meeting. Specific plan measures include:
reduction of organic and nutrient pollution, offsetting environmentally detrimental effects of man-made structural changes to the river, improvements to urban wastewater systems, the introduction of Phosphate-free detergents in all markets and effective risk management of accidental pollution. Further, measures to restore river continuity for fish migration as well as the reconnection of wetlands will be tackled. The plan takes a source-to-sea approach and addresses key requirements of the European Union Water Framework Directive.
  • Educational Programs: The ICPDR also works to educate the general public about the threats to the Danube River Basin and ways for the public to get involved. These educational programs include the establishment of an International Danube Day to “pay tribute to the vital role the Danube and its tributaries play in people’s lives” and the creation of the Danube Box, a teaching toolkit to “give local schoolchildren a greater understanding of the river, the threats posed to the river, and the need to preserve water resources.”

Several separate initiatives address specific sub-regions of the Danube River Basin. These include:

  • The Bioindicators Study: A collaborative July 2000 study, funded by governments of Germany and Austria, and in cooperation with local authorities, to investigate and analyze the accumulation and impact of certain micropollutants in the area of the Danube that was impacted by the Kosovo conflict.
  • The Danube Black Sea Task Force (“DABLAS”): DABLAS was established in November 2001 in response to a European Commission Communication outlining environmental problems in and priorities for the Danube-Black Sea Region. The task force includes representatives of countries in the region, the ICPDR Secretariat, other interested EU member states, the European Commission, international financing institutions, and other organizations and parties, including civil society. The overall goal is to develop financing mechanisms for pollution reduction and ecosystem rehabilitation in the wider Black Sea region.
  • The Tisza Investigation: An international expedition conducted, under the supervision of ICPDR, as a follow-up to JDS1. Specifically, the efforts were intended to investigate the sub-region’s water quality and pollution levels after cyanide and heavy metal pollution incidents occurred on the Szamos and Tisza rivers in February and March 2000. The survey was financed by the EU, Germany and with contributions from countries on the Tisza Basin, a sub-region of the Danube River Basin.
  • The Tisza River Basin Management Plan: In 2004, the countries of the Tisza River Basin signed a Memorandum of Understanding agreeing to “co-operate more closely in the framework of the ICPDR in order to produce a Tisza River Basin Management Plan by 2009 aiming at the objectives set by the EU Water Framework Directive as implemented through the [DRPC] and the ICPDR Flood action Programme and thereby complementing the efforts of the ICPDR.” As a first step towards drafting the plan, a comprehensive Tisza Analysis Report was prepared, with financial support from the EU, in 2007. The first summary document of the Plan was introduced at the 16 February 2010 Ministerial Meeting. Representatives from Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine adopted the “Ministerial Statement towards the development and implementation of a River Basin Management Plan for the Tisza River Basin.” A final Plan is intended be presented to the ICPDR Heads of Delegation by the end of 2010.
  • The UNDP-GEF Tisza Medium-Size Project (“MSP”): Though organized under the umbrella of the ICPDR, this project—focused on wetlands and flood plain restoration and management in the Tisza River Basin—is also supported and funded by the beneficiary countries, the UNDP, the UNEP, and the European Commission. This initiative includes of a series of smaller projects, including the Bodrog Project (mitigating the consequences of floods in the Bodrog river basin), the Upper Tisza Project (demonstrating cost effective measures to address the main environmental concerns in the area around two polluted villages in the upper Tisza region), and the Integrated Land Development Project (building upon and spreading lessons learned for integrated land management in the Tisza region). Overall, the MSP is intended to work towards the development of an Integrated River Management Plan.

In addition to the programs and projects listed above, the ICPDR conducts much of its work through relationships with other organizations. See Relationships.


The ICPDR is comprised of delegations from each of the Contracting Parties to the DRPC. Each Contracting Party can send a maximum of five delegates to the Commission, and technical experts for special matters when necessary. The ICPDR is led by the Chair of the Commission, which rotates among the Contracting Parties in English alphabetical order. The Chair’s delegation nominates one of its members to become the Commission’s President.

The expert bodies of the ICPDR include a Standing Working Group and Expert Groups, consisting of delegates and experts nominated by the ICPDR. The technical work of the ICPDR is carried out by such Expert Groups, as well as by ad hoc Expert Groups that address specific questions and support the work of the other Expert Groups or ICPDR bodies upon request. Current Expert Groups include the Expert Group on River Basin Management (“RBM EG”), the Pressures and Measures Expert Group (“PM EG”), the Monitoring and Assessment Expert Group (“MA EG”), the Expert Group on Flood Protection (“FLOOD EG”), the Information Management and Geographical Information System Expert Group (“IM + GIS EF”), the Public Participation Expert Group (“PP EG”), and the ad hoc Strategic Expert Group (“S EG”).

The overall work of the ICPDR is administered by its Permanent Secretariat, which is headquartered in Vienna, Austria. The ICPDR appoints an Executive Secretary, and there are also provisions for the appointment of additional personnel. The Executive Secretary is entrusted to “perform the functions that are necessary for the administration of [the DRPC] and for the work of the [ICPDR]” as well as other tasks entrusted to the officer by the ICPDR.


The ICPDR has strong and continuing relationships with both UNDP-GEF and the European Commission. See Functions. The ICPDR has also developed formal and informal relationships with other international organizations and corporate partners to further its mission, including with the Danube Commission (which governs navigation on the Danube River) with regard to their mutual responsibilities regarding environmental protection and inland navigation, and with the Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries of Leibniz, Germany and the Institute for Water Quality and Waste Management at the Technical University of Vienna regarding specific Danube River Basin research projects.

The ICPDR also established, in 2008, a “Friends of the Danube” program that seeks to foster beneficial relationships with local businesses in order to help preserve and protect the environment of the Danube River Basin. Members of this program are required to provide, at a minimum, a “partnership donation” of 25,000 euros and to work towards the responsible use of water in their own business operations. Current Business Friends of the Danube include the Coca-Cola Company, Coca-Cola Hellenic, ORF, and Borealis.

In addition to these relationships, nineteen organizations have been granted observer status with the ICPDR, including the Black Sea Commission, the Central Dredging Association, the Danube Environmental Forum, the Danube Commission, the Danube Tourist Commission, the European Anglers Alliance, the European Barge Union, the European Water Association, Friends of Nature International, the Global Water Partnership, the International Association for Danube Research, the International Association of Water Supply Companies in the Danube River Catchment Area, the International Hydrological Programme of the UNESCO, the International Sava River Basin Commission, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe, VGB PowerTech e.V., Via Donau, and the World Wide Fund for Nature – Danube-Carpathian Programme. These organizations are entitled to receive certain information from the ICPDR and to participate in various meetings, programs, and projects carried out under the DRPC, but they are not permitted to take part in the Commission decision-making process.


ICPDR meetings are held once a year, with extraordinary meetings convened by the President on the request of at least three delegations. Each ICPDR delegation has one vote, with special rules for EU voting. An ICPDR quorum exists when delegations of two-thirds of the Contracting Parties are present. ICPDR decisions and recommendations are adopted by consensus. If efforts are exhausted and consensus is still not reached, the ICPDR can adopt decisions or recommendations (except for decisions with financial implications) by a four-fifths majority of the delegations present and voting, unless otherwise provided by the Convention. Each decision is binding on the first day of the eleventh month following its adoption for “all Contracting Parties that voted for it and have not within that period notified the Executive Secretary that they are unable to accept” the decision.


The DRPC provides that in the event of disputes between two or more Contracting Parties regarding the interpretation or application of the Convention, they shall seek resolution through negotiation or any other means acceptable to the parties to the dispute, with assistance of the ICPDR, if appropriate. If such efforts are not successful in resolving the dispute within a reasonable time (but not more than twelve months from notifying the ICPDR of the dispute), the dispute is submitted for compulsory decision either to the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) or to private arbitration, subject to the arbitration procedures set forth in Annex V to the DRPC.

The DRPC gives the Contracting Parties the option to declare their acceptance of one or both means of dispute settlement (ICJ or arbitration) in advance. If all parties to the dispute have accepted both means of dispute settlement, the dispute will be submitted to the ICJ, unless the parties agree otherwise. Where parties to the dispute have not accepted the same means of dispute settlement, the dispute is submitted to arbitration. If a Contracting Party fails to declare its preference, it is considered to have accepted arbitration.


The Contracting Parties to the DRPC are required to report to the ICPDR on issues necessary for the ICPDR to comply with its tasks. Reports involve a variety of data and information, including on other bilateral or multilateral agreements affecting the Danube, information on Contracting Parties’ laws and regulations concerning the protection and water management of the river, communication concerning the domestic implementation of ICPDR decisions, designation of competent institutions for cooperation in the framework, and communication on planned activities likely to cause transboundary impacts.

Similarly, as required by the ICPDR, the Contracting Parties are required to share with the other Contracting Parties any “reasonably available data” relating to: (a) the environmental conditions within the catchment area of the Danube River Basin; (b) the experience gained from the application of best techniques and results of research; (c) emission and monitoring data; (d) measures taken and planned to address transboundary impacts; (e) regulations for the discharge of waste water; and (f) accidents that involve substances hazardous to water. Additionally, the Contracting Parties are also required to exchange information on regulations to harmonize emission limits. Moreover, provision is made to enable a Contracting Party to request data not available from another Contracting Party, on the condition that the requesting Contracting Party agrees to pay reasonable charges for collecting and processing such data or information. The objectives of the DRPC are also promoted by the facilitating the exchange of “best available techniques” via promotion and commercial exchange, technical assistance, and joint training programs.

In addition, the DRPC requires that the Contracting Parties make available all information concerning the state or quality of the river environment “to any natural or legal person, with payment of reasonable charges, in response to any reasonable request.” At the same time, the DRPC includes provisions for the protection of certain information and data, including personal data, industrial and commercial secrets and information affecting public or national security.

The DRPC also establishes obligations for coordinated or joint communication, warning and alarm systems and obligations to consult on “ways and means of harmonising domestic communication, warning and alarm systems and emergency plans.” In this regard, Contracting Parties must supply competent authorities or points of contact for emergency events, including accidental pollution or critical water conditions such as floods and ice-hazards. Competent authorities identifying increases in hazardous substances or floods or forecasts of ice-hazards are obligated to inform downstream states along the Danube River.

Overall, information sharing, exchange, and harmonization have been primary objectives of the ICPDR from its inception. In particular, the establishment of uniform standards for data collection and exchange has been a prime focus of the Contracting Parties since the beginning of the Danube Pollution Reduction Programme in 1992. There are also joint data collection and survey efforts and a technical body—the Information Management and Geographical Information System Expert Group—which is charged with maintaining the overall data information system. See Functions and Organizational Structure.


In addition to the communication requirements detailed above (see Data Information Sharing, Exchange, and Harmonization), the DRPC requires certain notifications or communications from the Contracting Parties in connection with: their inability to accept decisions adopted by the ICPDR or the Conference of Parties; proposals to amend the DRPC or any amendment’s acceptance or ratification; disputes among Contracting Parties; or a Contracting Party’s withdrawal from the Convention.

The DRPC provides that Contracting Parties shall, at the request of one or more concerned Contracting Parties, enter into consultations on certain planned activities likely to cause transboundary impacts. The relevant competent authorities must wait for the results of such consultations prior to making a decision on the planned activities, unless the consultations are not finalized after a year or the activities are required by pending danger.


The Statute of the ICPDR specifies that the Contracting Parties to the DRPC (excluding the European Union, for which there is a ceiling contribution towards administrative costs) are expected to contribute to the budgets of the ICPDR in equal parts, unless there is unanimous agreement to the contrary. Contracting Parties are further expected to pay their own costs of participation and the costs of monitoring and assessment undertaken in their territories.

Much of the ICPDR’s work on particular projects is also subsidized and financially managed by the UNDP-GEF, the EU, the World Bank, and other public and private partners. See Functions and Relationships.


No specific provision, although the DRPC does provide for several forms of cooperation, including consultations and joint activities, the exchange of information and technical assistance. See Functions and Data Information Sharing, Exchange, and Harmonization. The DRPC also obligates the Contracting Parties to establish “complementary or joint programmes of scientific or technical research” and to transmit to the ICPDR the results of such research (access to which is open for public authorities) and relevant parts of other programs or scientific and technical research. Finally, the DRPC obligates Contracting Parties to provide mutual assistance on requests to facilitate compliance with the Convention’s obligations, particularly where a critical situation of river conditions may arise.


The DRPC has several provisions on monitoring, including requiring the Contracting Parties to monitor the progress of joint action programs and the establishment of periodic progress reviews in the context of emissions, and requirements in connection with domestic activities to cooperate in monitoring and assessment by:

  • Harmoni[zing] or mak[ing] comparable their monitoring and assessment methods as applied on their domestic levels, in particular in the field of river quality, emission control, flood forecast and water balance, with a view to achieving comparable results to be introduced into the joint monitoring and assessment activities;
  • Develop[ing] concerted or joint monitoring systems applying stationary or mobile measurement devices, communication and data processing facilities;
  • Elaborat[ing] and implement[ing] joint programmes for monitoring the riverine conditions in the Danube catchment area concerning both water quality and quantity, sediments and riverine ecosystems, as a basis for the assessment of transboundary impacts such as transboundary pollution and changes of the riverine regimes as well as of water balances, floods and ice-hazards;
  • Develop[ing] joint or harmonised methods for monitoring and assessment of waste water discharges including processing, evaluation and documentation of data taking into account the branch specific approach of emission limitation (Annex II, Part 1);
  • Elaborat[ing] inventories on relevant point sources including the pollutants discharged (emission inventories) and estimate[ing] the water pollution from non-point sources taking into account Annex II, Part 2; [and]
  • Review[ing] these documents according to the actual state.

Additionally, the Contracting Parties are obligated “to agree upon monitoring points, river quality characteristics and pollution parameters” to be evaluated regularly.

The Secretariat is required to monitor all programs and activities of the ICPDR and to produce a comprehensive report each year for review by the Contracting Parties. The Secretariat in turn is authorized to rely on entrusted experts to evaluate program results. For particular programs, however, additional oversight may be exercised by programs partners. See Functions and Funding and Financing.


No specific provision, although ICPDR programs and projects often utilize multiple public and private stakeholders in determining policy priorities and implementing specific programs. See Functions and Relationships.


There is no specific provision related to the overall dissolution or termination of the DRPC or the ICPDR. But, any Contracting Party may withdraw from the Convention once it has been a member for five years and provides notice of withdrawal a year in advance.





  • The ICPDR, available at
  • The UNDP-GEF Danube Regional Project, available at
  • The Danube Commission, available at
  • Joanne Linnerooth-Bayer and Susan Murcott, Danube River Basin: International Cooperation or Sustainable Development, 36 NAT. RESOURCES J. 521 (1996).
  • Chris Hudson, The Role of International Environmental Law in the Protection of the Danube River Basin: The Baia Mare Cyanide Spill, 12 COLO. J. INT’L ENVTL. L. & POL’Y 367 (2001).
  • Alistair S. Rieu-Clarke, Overview of Stakeholder Participation – What Current Practice and Future Challenges? – Case Study of the Danube Basin, 18 COLO. J. INT’L ENVTL. L. & POL’Y 611 (2007).
  • Libor Jansky, Masahiro Murakami, Nevelina I. Pachova, The Danube: Environmental Monitoring of an International River (United Nations University Press 2004).
  • Groundwater in International Law: Compilation of Treaties and Other Legal Instruments (Stefano Burchi, Kerstin Mechlem eds. 2005, FAO/UNESCO), parts III(ii)(b)(13) and III(iii)(19), available at

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