Europe and the Danube - will enlargement be good for Europe's second longest river?

From it's source in the Black Forest of Germany to its mouth in the Black Sea, the Danube River flows through 11 countries including Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia. And for millennia the Danube has been one of Europe's most important sources of trade, food and energy. It's also been a convenient drain for mans many pollutants. But according to the new head of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube, Phil Weller, European Union enlargement will be good for Danube water quality. He says the candidate countries have signed up to European legislation to reduce pollution of the Danube.

"It is industrial facilities, its also though agricultural land uses that are contributing and in fact over 50 percent of the nutrient pollution is coming from these sources. There are though specific municipal waste treatment facilities that are significant problems or in many cases need to be built in order to address the problems. Cities in such Budapest, Belgrade or Bucharest, which need to upgrade or improve their facilities."

So are there particular countries that are offending badly?

"Within the region all countries are contributing to pollution problems and all countries are committed to a need to undertake efforts to reduce them. There are particular locations such as Belgrade or Bucharest, which need to address the sewage treatment problems. The upstream countries tend to have done more significant amount of work in that regard such as Austria. But it is mainly the land use in upstream countries that is perhaps of larger concern."

Several years ago there was a major spill of cyanide from a mine in a contributory of the Danube and then into the Danube, which caused major pollution. What is the Commission doing to prevent that sort of accident occurring again?

"The Commission has taken very, very seriously that particular problem and it was a wakeup call for all of us in the sense that there are these potential problem areas. The Commission has done an inventory of other sites which could cause such problems, and has also prepared a host of measures that need to be undertaken to examine these sites and improve the situation so these problems cannot exist."

You mention the legislation of the European Uniono that binds the countries of the EU and it's candidate countries. So is the enlargement process actually contributing to an improvement in the regulation and protection of the Danube water system?

"It does and I think the people are not aware enough of how important this particular piece of E.U legislation is - the water framework directive, is beneficial in the sense of the EU member states but a very important element of it is that it goes beyond the borders. And the countries outside the union have agreed to undertake similar measures to those inside the union, in part perhaps in the hope that they will some day join and they will have everything in place. And in part because of the necessity of managing rivers as an entirety."

Some environmental organisations, the WWF among them, are very concerned that the undeveloped parts of the Danube, the wild parts, are coming under pressure for development, for channelling to improve shipping and the sort of development that's taken place on the upper part of the Danube in Austria and Germany. Is the commission concerned about that?

"It is. The commission has information that's been collected through a study that identified the lack of natural habitats within the Danube and the importance of maintaining and rehabilitating those areas where damage has occurred. These are important both for flood control, for pollution reduction and those areas are areas that do help reduce pollutants and eliminate them. It's necessary that we develop strategies - and there are strategies being developed and put in place that are trying to expand those efforts."