The Danube and the Danube Commissions

Transnationalism in flow

Date: 1 September 2017, 09:00–12:00

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 393



The Danube and the Danube Commissions. Transnationalism in flowRecently, the Danube has become the object of several multidisciplinary research proposals encompassing approaches from international law, international relations, international organizations, economic history and infrastructure, to name but the most important ones. Large rivers crossing several meso-regions and countries and providing for an outlet to the open seas are an obvious transnational phenomenon. In the case of the Danube and the Danube Commissions, this panel aims at rendering this truism into a fruitful research avenue. Especially the Lower and to some respect the Middle Danube have become loci of intense economic and political action (both, collaboration and rivalry) since the early 19th century. The opening of the Black Sea to international naval commerce and the advent of the steamship triggered not only commercial and touristic activities but also efforts to politically dominate the Danube. These processes resulted in several international Commissions, which functioned as loci of institutionalized transnationalism: the European Commission of the Danube (1856-1921), the International Danube Commission in different guises in the interwar, cold war and post 1989/91 contexts. In political perspectives, over time there were involved competing and collective Great Power imperialism, soviet domination, and the more multipolar and institutionalized internationalism of the interwar and post-cold war periods. Finally, the Danube Commissions can be analyzed as bodies which incorporated several innovations in international law as well as in regard to the working of international organizations; this was especially the case with the European Danube Commission with its quasi state-like status at the Lower Danube.


Dietmar Müller (Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe (GWZO)


Luminiţa Gătejel (Institute for East and Southeast European Studies Regensburg)

Constantin Ardeleanu (“The Lower Danube” University of Galaţi / Utrecht University / New Europe College)

Constantin Iordachi (Central European University Budapest)

Dietmar Müller (Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe (GWZO)

Guido Thiemeyer (University of Düsseldorf)



Luminiţa Gătejel: Overcoming the iron gates: European politics and circulation of knowledge in the 19th century

This paper focuses on two early efforts to facilitate steam navigation on the Danube to the Black Sea. It sets out to analyze the first attempt to remove the physical obstructions at the Iron Gates in the 1830s. Then it looks at a follow up project in the 1870s that aimed at improving the shipping connection. It is quite remarkable, that there is hardly any literature on these engineering projects that made the Lower Danube navigable for steamboats. To a certain extent the story of the human intervention into the natural environment of the Lower Danube iterates similar discourses and practices known from engineering projects conducted on other rivers. In this respect, the Danube shared most similarities with the Rhine, as both rivers crossed several sovereign states. The fragmentation of state authority had a major impact on how both rivers were managed, because decisions had to be negotiated among the riverine states. But whereas on the Rhine, single states were in charge of the river’s regulation, in the case of the Danube, even engineering works were either joint projects, or needed at least the approval from neighboring states. This particularity made engineering at the Iron Gates more closely intertwined with international politics and thus, different to similar projects conducted on other European rivers. Furthermore, this engagement at the Iron Gates also illustrates the interrelated process of knowledge circulation between hydraulic experts across imperial borders and how technical knowledge was adapted to the local circumstances.

Constantin Ardeleanu: The European Commission of the Danube: An experiment in international administration (1856–1914)

This paper focuses on the development of Danubian trade and shipping after the establishment of the European Commission of the Danube in 1856, by the decision of the Treaty of Paris. This international institution underwent an impressive technical and administrative program that contributed to the transformation of the Lower Danube into a secure and prosperous transportation corridor. On the basis of the archives of the Danube Commission, we aim to refer to the fields in which navigation was modernized, using statistical data to exemplify the transition from sail to steam and how the engineers coped with the ever larger tonnage of the vessels plying on the Lower Danube.

Constantin Iordachi: Collective Imperialism: The European Commission of the Danube, 1856-1918/1920

This paper focuses on the Great Powers’ political and commercial involvement at the lower Danube, and is centered mainly on the activity of the European Commission of the Danube, regarded as an innovative experiment in international law. The growing economic role of the Danube in the second quarter of the nineteenth century generated a stiff commercial rivalry among great powers for the control of the river. By the 1850s, European powers harbored plans of neutralizing the waterway of the Danube as a way of guaranteeing the free circulation and quality of navigation, and of preventing its domination by a single power. The main results of these efforts was the creation of the European Commission of the Danube. The paper assesses the legal status, activities and achievements of this organization, in long term historical perspective. I will also assess the impact of World War One on its activity and its post-war reorganization.

Dietmar Müller: The Danube and the Danube Commissions in International Law

From the perspective of International Law, the Danube was considered an international river since the early 19th century and therefore subject of regulations which would guarantee the free circulation of commercial ships. However, only after the Ottoman Empire was for the first time considered part of the international community of civilized states after the Crimean War the European Commission of the Danube (ECD) was founded in 1856. The ECD can be analyzed as one of the first international organizations and from the beginning several principles of International Law, commercial interests and geopolitical considerations were involved which are relevant to the present day: European Powers’ commercial interests vs. riparian principle as criterion for membership; free navigation and free trade zones vs. national interests; geopolitical blocks vs. national sovereignty; professionalism vs. national representation.

Guido Thiemeyer: Transnational cooperation in inland navigation on the Danube in the 1950s and 1960s

The paper deals with political conflict and economic cooperation in the context of Danube navigation after World War II. It argues that even though the Cold War dominated political relationships between Eastern European Countries, Austria and Western Germany, shipping companies in these countries were in close cooperation until the early 1950s. These private contacts thwarted in a certain way the Foreign Policy of their respective countries. On the other hand, a transnational area was created in the Danube region that was even extended in the 1960s, when the construction of the Rhine-Danube Channel started. Inland navigation and the cooperation of shipping companies therefore played an important role in the emergence of a transnational European area even before the 1970s.

Back to listing