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Autor: Rear Admiral Cornel ROGOZAN


The Romanian people have evolved over time in the perimeter between the Carpathians, the Danube and the Black Sea. Our history as a people is inextricably linked to our geographical location, the Danube being the link between the peoples of western and central Europe. The Danube has, over the years, been the subject of works and debates on various aspects of this “question”.

One witty journalist has said that the “Danube Question” has the misfortune of all Eastern questions, that of being too complicated. The facts confirmed it. The Congress of Vienna in 1815, after Napoleon’s dramatic defeat, decided that rivers or streams flowing through several states should be open to navigation by all merchant shipping. That none of these states would be able to hinder navigation. That each of them should not only execute in the bed of the river the works necessary for the facilitation of navigation, but also maintain the roads of edec passing through their territory. If geographically the Danube ends at its mouth, economically it flows into the Mediterranean Sea: in the Delta it discharges its waters, in the Mediterranean it carries its ships. Without a free outlet to the Mediterranean, the Danube cannot fulfil its role in world trade.       

Starting from the idea that the port appears with navigation, it becomes obvious that the first port phases can be considered as belonging to antiquity. The role of the Danube as a transport artery has fluctuated over time, depending on the political and legal regime that existed in various historical periods. After the Romans, who took full advantage of the possibilities offered by the river, there followed a period of several interruptions due to migrating peoples. It was not until the 13th century, with the arrival of the Genoese, that the Danube regained its role as a commercially important waterway. At the Congress of Vienna (1815), the Danube was recognised as an international river, but following Russia’s victory over Turkey in the Peace Treaty of Adrianopole (1829), Russia took control of the mouths of the Danube, ensuring complete freedom of navigation.

It was not until the Crimean War (1853-1856), which ended with the Treaty of Paris, that the issue of navigation on the Danube became of international interest. The victory of the Franco-Anglo-Turkish-Piedmontese coalition brought a new balance of power to Europe, depriving Russia of the means to intervene in the Danube principalities. For the first time, a general international navigation regime is established on the Danube. According to the provisions of the treaty, the principle of freedom of navigation on the river was established. With this treaty, France and Great Britain, the victorious states, assume the role of guarantors of Europe’s interests on the Danube. This led to the creation of the European Commission for the Danube (EDC), which also included Austria, Russia, Prussia, Sardinia and Turkey. In fact, the creation of this Commission was dictated by the interests of France and Great Britain on the Lower Danube in relation to Russia, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Germany. The Commission had its own flag, administration, fleet, police and court, and could prohibit the riparian countries from building hydroelectric power stations and installations if they ran counter to the interests of the two powers. One of the achievements of this commission was the work to improve the Sulina arm by deepening the channel from 2.74 m to 7 m.

As far as seaports are concerned, since Dobrogea was still under Ottoman occupation (until 1878), Romania only had access to the Black Sea since 1856 (with the Paris Peace Treaty) through the three counties of southern Bessarabia, which had been returned by Russia in 1856: Ismail, Cahul and Bolgrad). In 1857 the British company “Danube and Black Sea Railway Company Ltd.” obtains from the Ottoman government the concession to build the Cernavodă – Constan ța railway and the Constanța seaport. Both works are completed in 1860. The harbour covered an area of 4 hectares, was 5.20 metres deep, and was sheltered by a 20-metre embankment.

           After the proclamation of Romania’s state independence from the Ottoman Empire (1878), shipping also underwent a notable development. However, the most important event was the union of Dobrogea with Romania, which gave our country access to the Black Sea and the Ocean, thus enabling Romania to develop its maritime transport. In 1884 the Romanian government bought the old port of Constanta and the Cernavodă-Constanta railway, paying 16 million lei-gold.              Between 1856 and 1878 Austria and Hungary took over the Danube’s navy. The Berlin Peace Treaty of 1878 obliged Hungary to regularise the Iron Gate sector, which, together with the tax system introduced, enabled it to prevent Romanian trade upstream. This situation lasted until the outbreak of the First World War. In 1919, as a result of the desire of the Great Powers to extend their domination of the river, the Inter-Allied Commission of the Danube was created, with the small riparian countries being reserved only the role of suppliers of fuel for ships. Initially based in Belgrade, the commission moved back to Budapest. The Paris Peace Conference in 1921 marked the internationalisation of the entire navigable system of the Danube from Ulm to the Black Sea. The Danube administration was divided into two main sectors. One was the ‘maritime Danube’ sector from the estuary to Braila, for which the authority of the EDC established in 1856 was re-established, including Great Britain, France, Italy and Romania. The second sector was that of the “River Danube” from Braila to Ulm, for which the International Commission for the Danube (CID) was set up, in which the riparian states Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania were included along with Great Britain, France and Italy, with headquarters in Vienna since 1927. It was the EDC organisation that decided all matters by four votes, which meant that Romania was always in a minority. By this statute, Romania did not have national sovereignty over the maritime sector of the Danube, even though its headquarters were in Galati. It can be said that, with these agreements, navigation on the Danube was unified for the first time since the Roman Empire. By its statute, the EDC functioned as a government with the right to pass laws, make court decisions and enforce the rulings. Consequently, Romania campaigned for the liquidation of the EDC and the restoration of its sovereignty over the lower Danube. In this context, Romania proposed that the control functions of the EDC be extended to the Bosphorus-Dardanelles straits with the relocation of its headquarters to Istanbul.Meanwhile, Germany is targeting the Danube basin as a ‘vital sphere’. German pressure to join the EDC intensifies after the occupation of Austria in 1938. With the Sinaia Convention of 1938, France and Great Britain transferred the functions of the DEC organisation to Romania, thereby recognising sovereignty over the maritime Danube, but in reality giving Germany a free hand. As a result, an agreement was concluded in Bucharest in 1939 welcoming Germany into the EDC. Subsequently, in 1940 the Vienna Conference secured full control over the Danube.

             After the Second World War, with the defeat of Germany: a new framework for the legal regime of the Danube is created. At the Belgrade Conference in 1948, France and Britain tried to push for a revival of the 1921 Convention. The conference was also attended by riparian states: Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine and the USA. This marked the beginning of the period of USSR domination, which led to the annulment of the 1921 Convention, the exclusion of Western states and Germany and the abolition of free zones for some ports. Thus, after almost a century of Western domination, the period of USSR domination begins, with the USSR establishing total control over the Danube through its satellite states. As relations between the USSR and Yugoslavia cooled, the seat of the Danube Commission was transferred to Budapest. At the same time, the USSR transferred its membership rights to Ukraine.The new Danube Commission adopted a unified navigation system, unification of sanitary and river control, and a general plan of regularisation works. It should be noted that the legal regime of the Danube is closely linked to that of the Black Sea straits, which provide access to The Mediterranean and beyond. Nicolae Titulescu stressed at the Montreaux Conference in 1936 that “the straits are the very heart of Turkey. But they are also the lungs of Romania.”These changes in the sphere of influence and decision-making power, inevitably correlated with changes in the legal regime, have left their mark on the way the ports have developed, by creating favourable or, on the contrary, restrictive conditions for their development. While in other respects the factors influencing cities and ports do not overlap entirely, the legal regime has had a common influence. The lack of freedom of navigation in certain periods also had an impact on the cities, affecting their attractiveness and potential, thus reducing their development opportunities.

         In the post-war period the Danube became a major polarising axis for industry. Thus, the mining industry in the Danube Gorge region intensified (fuels and ores), and on the basis of imported raw materials, strong steel and machine-building industries (Galati-Brăila cluster) and non-ferrous metallurgy (Tulcea) were established. A number of Danube towns built industrial units in the chemical industry (fertilisers, cellulose), the machine-building industry (shipyards, rolling stock), and the food and light industry. The largest hydroelectric power station in Europe was built at Porțile de Fier I and the first atomic power station in Romania was built at Cernavodă. With regard to the organisation of shipping, on 18 August 1948, the “Convention on the Regime of Navigation on the Danube” was drawn up in Belgrade, on the basis of which the intergovernmental organisation “Danube Commission” was set up in Budapest in 1954, with 11 riparian states as members: Austria, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia (after 1991- Croatia, Serbia), USSR (after 1991- Moldova, Ukraine, Russia), GDR and FRG (after 1990- Germany), Romania, Czechoslovakia (after 1993- Slovakia and Czechoslovakia-observer), Hungary. 4 other countries have “observer” status: France, the Netherlands, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

The period 1960-1990 is the period in which Romanian shipping has recorded the most spectacular development in its entire history to date, due to Romania’s economic situation. Thus, in 1959, an ambitious naval programme was launched, as a result of which, after 30 years (in 1989), Romania has an important maritime (9th place in the world) and river fleet (the largest in Europe, and the second largest in the world, after the USA). The most important navigation work on the Danube is the Iron Gates 1 hydroelectric complex, built between 1964 and 1972 in collaboration with Yugoslavia. The construction of this complex created a reservoir (up to Belgrade) with a capacity of 2200 million cubic metres, with a water level rising by 35 metres, a hydroelectric power station with an installed capacity of 2160 MW/h, and two locks with an annual lockage capacity of 52.4 million tonnes/year (one way) and 37.2 million tonnes/year (both ways). In 1969 the first lock in Romania was put into operation here. In the 1980s, the Iron Gates 2 complex was also put into service. The hydropower plant here has an installed capacity of 500 MW/h. On 8 December 1984 the lock on the Romanian side of the Danube was put into operation. The whole complex is completed in 1986. However, the most important work in terms of waterways is undoubtedly the Danube-Black Sea and Poarta Albă – Midia Năvodari waterway. After 1989, the Danube issue was revived and new regulations are to be debated. Today, the work of the Danube Commission (based in Budapest) ensures, through the use of appropriate forms of partnership and cooperation, freedom of navigation on the entire river, without discrimination between riparian countries and other states. The current regional geopolitical context – which also influences the navigation regime on the Danube – is strongly marked by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict which, through the aggression of the Russian Federation that began on 24 February 2022, has spread from the two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine (Donetsk and Lugansk) to the entire Ukrainian territory. In this context, Russian army forces also struck military and civilian targets located just 124 km north of the Romanian-Ukrainian border (in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk), as well as in the port city of Odessa (207 km from Tulcea). Also, the island of Snakes (Zmiinâi), located only 45 km from the Romanian Black Sea coast and the mouth of the Danube, has been occupied by the Russian army since the first day of its military invasion, which means that Moscow will be able to control access to the Black Sea via Sulina and thus monitor NATO’s eastern flank.             While upstream from Galati, the Danube has become an essential pillar of European integration, the status The new European and Euro-Atlantic structure of the river, which is the result of the acceptance of the majority of the states located in its upper and middle basin, between the Galati-Reni alignment and the Gulf of Musura, tends to become an axis of instability, given the Kremlin’s tendency to change its borders by armed force and to regain control over the mouths of the river. From this point of view, one of the scenarios for the development of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict (known as the ‘coastal scenario’) is aimed at the Russian Federation’s conquest of the entire southern part of Ukraine, along the Black Sea, and thus to link the separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk (whose independence was unilaterally proclaimed and recognised by Moscow), Crimea (illegally annexed, also by force, by Russia in 2014) and Transnistria, a pro-Russian separatist territory that is de jure part of the Republic of Moldova. The likelihood of this scenario is also based on the ethno-linguistic structure of the area targeted for annexation, which is dominated by a Russian-speaking population, which in 2014, on the occasion of the annexation of Crimea, expressed its support for the Russian Federation. The geostrategic stakes of Russia’s occupation and annexation of this territory are amplified by the fact that the Herson and Zaporojia regions located in the lower basin of the Dnieper constitute the source of fresh water supply for the Crimean peninsula.


As a member of NATO and the European Union, Romania can count on its own forces, some declaratory sympathies and de facto support from Europe’s multinational security institutions, which are also in the process of adapting to new threats and realities. Aware of the subject matter and content of the new security issues, rallying points for European states, Romania has no choice but to crystallise its vital, major and peripheral national interests on the Danube.

– Romania’s vital interests concerning the Danube follow:

– maintaining and promoting the spirit of nationhood with an outlet to the sea and the Danube;

– the preservation unaltered of the Danube outlet to the Black Sea on the Sulina arm, mainly, and on the Danube-Black Sea canal because we have to fulfill the prediction of the great politician Mihail Kogalniceanu who said that “…/under penalty of suicide we have the duty to defend the freedom of the Danube. The key to our salvation is the Danube’s path to the open sea… “;

– preserving the correct size of the national water territory and defending the economic interests in the river area and the exclusive maritime economic zone.

– Romania’s major interests are:

– promoting the improvement and updating of the international regime of the Danube subject to discouraging tendencies to take supra-state decisions of the Danube Commission;

– increasing transport and river operating capacities;

– to reduce the technological gap between the system serving the Lower Danube and the Main-Rhine logistics complex;

– ensuring compliance with inland waterway traffic, customs, fisheries and environmental protection legislation;

– to exploit and increase tourism potential;

– developing the service system and logistics infrastructure in the Romanian sector; discouraging and dismantling the mechanism of organised smuggling;

– exploiting the opportunities offered by sea-river communications linking Central Asia to Europe and attracting Caspian oil and gas pipelines to Romania;

– discouraging acts of obstruction of navigation, creating and maintaining the image and feeling of safety of the transport route, goods and crews in the Romanian sector;

– maintaining an optimal military structure for river safety.

– Romania’s peripheral interests concern: 

– Maintaining a balance between river security components comparable to other riparian nations;                                              – development of the logistic infrastructure in the sense of interoperability with the system serving the requirements of the river transport infrastructure.

Romania’s interests on the Danube can be grouped in several ways:                                                                                                                                                                            

a) political  

 – Romania’s full integration into the EU in order to avoid placing our country in a “grey” area;

             – the adoption of collective security measures in the Balkans and the Black Sea area.

b) economic

            – developing European economic links between the super-industrialised West and the developing East;

            – bi- and multilateral cooperation with the countries bordering the Danube-Main-Rhine axis;

– modernisation of port and inland waterway infrastructure in the Romanian sector.

c) Legal

            – promoting the improvement and updating of the international regime of the Danube, subject to discouraging tendencies to take supra-state decisions by the Danube Commission;

– revision of bilateral treaties on the state border on the river due to geographical and political changes.

d) Military 

– maintaining a military structure as an option to ensure Romania’s national defence.

e) environmental

            – sustainable and equitable management of the Danube river basin.

f) media

            – promoting a media image that supports our country’s interests. 

Romania’s location in the Balkan area “where more history is made than can be consumed” as W. Churchill said, makes each of the interests outlined above of major importance.

In conclusion, so far it can be said that Romania has two vital interests, without which we would probably not exist as a modern nation, namely:

– The maintenance and promotion of the spirit of a seafaring nation (seafaring consciousness);

– control of the mouths of the Danube.



The Danube has been of geopolitical and geostrategic interest from antiquity to the present day. Throughout this period the Danube has been:

– border between empires and states;

– communication route, used for commercial or military purposes;

– a settlement area for human communities with rich natural resources;

– an area with direct or indirect hydroelectric potential.

The strategic importance of the Danube today lies primarily in its economic value. In the context of worsening relations between riparian states, supported by other interested states or groups of states, the adoption of restrictive measures on navigation can only have catastrophic consequences for all European trade on the river.

The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal is a means of access to economic development and of speeding up the integration of the riparian countries into European structures. By creating the canal, the navigable artery between the North Sea and the Black Sea has become an interdepartmental whole, whose impact goes beyond the borders of the riparian countries and becomes a strategic element at European level.

Looking back over the establishment and development of the legal regime of the Danube, from the first regulations to the present day, we can see that this river, and in particular its mouths, has generated a clear geopolitical dimension over the centuries. From the permanent conflicts of interest between the great powers, the small riparian states have had to lose.

The importance of the Danube from a geopolitical and geostrategic point of view takes on new dimensions if one considers the whole system associated with the river, a system which includes tributaries, navigable canals, hydro-technical constructions, which can have a balancing or unbalancing effect on the environment but also on political, social, cultural, economic and military aspects.

In the new international conditions, maintaining the status of master of the Danube estuaries is fundamental for Romania in its development and the preservation of its national security, as well as for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Romania is situated at the confluence of geographical areas of latent or open tensions, on the border between the former USSR and NATO and the EU. It should not be forgotten that the Danube can become a source of major risk, in addition to all the opportunities it offers.

Romania must use its geostrategic position to accelerate the development of its trade relations and beyond. At present and in the perspective of full European and Euro-Atlantic integration, it is fundamental for the Romanian state to take into account:

– maintaining open navigation on the Danube;

– making traffic on the Danube-Black Sea Canal more efficient;

– strengthening vigilance in order to avoid possible attempts to “sabotage” navigation;

– ensuring tighter control of the Danube Delta and the mouths of the Danube;

– introducing a stricter environmental protection regime for our country’s part of the Danube basin;

– consistently stimulating the development of the Black Sea economic area and its functionality in order to connect more closely the interests of the European Union states with regard to navigation on the river, towards the Middle East and Asia;

– promoting initiatives to create a broad Danube cooperation in order to jointly exploit the advantages offered by the direct link between the North Sea and the Black Sea;

– strategically reconsidering the areas of operation on the river;

– the creation of an inland navigation network and its connection to the Danube.

Given its position on Europe’s main river transport artery, managing together with its neighbours the lower reaches of the Danube, I believe this offers our country the chance to become one of the greatest river powers. But only a proper river shipping policy and strategy can turn Romania’s opportunity into reality.

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