740.00119 (Potsdam)/5–2446

No. 264
Briefing Book Paper
top secret

International Control of the Danube

A series of treaties, beginning with the Treaty of Vienna in 1815,1 established the foundations for the international control of international rivers. The basic principles of which were (1) commercial navigation to be free for all nations, (2) no fiscal charges except reasonable compensation for maintenance and improvements, and (3) regulation of navigation by common consent of the states bordering on or crossed by such rivers. In the case of the Danube these provisions were not immediately applied because of the exclusion of Turkey from the Concert of Europe. However, when in 1856 the Ottoman Empire was admitted, the Treaty of Paris expressly provided that the principles of the Treaty of Vienna on the internationalization of rivers were to be applied to the Danube.

The Treaty of 1856 also provided for an European Commission of the Danube composed of representatives of Great Britain, Austria, France, Prussia, Russia, Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire; it was charged with the control of the maritime section of the Danube (from Brăila to the Black Sea). To cover the cost of this work the European Commission could establish duties to be assessed on a basis of complete equality. Conceived as a transitory body to be followed by a permanent international commission composed solely of the riverain states, it continued to function until Rumania’s entry into the World War in 1916, by which time it had extended its activities and attained a special juridical status. There was no international regulation of the fluvial Danube until after 1918.

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The system of internationalization of certain waterways was reaffirmed by the treaties which concluded the first World War. The Danube was declared an “international” river. With the exception of Germany, which was not allowed to carry passengers or goods by regular service between ports of any Allied or Associated Power, the Danube (like other international rivers) was to be open to all countries on the basis of equality. The European Commission of the Danube was reestablished with representation, of only Great Britain, France, Italy and Rumania as a “provisional measure”. An International Commission of the Danube was also provided for in the Treaty of Versailles2 to oversee river development and apply navigation rules over the fluvial portion from Brăila to the highest navigable point. This commission was composed of two representatives of each of the German riparian states (Württemberg and Bavaria), one from each of the other riparian states (Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, [the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes,] Bulgaria and Rumania) and one representative of each non-riparian state on the European Commission—that is, Great Britain, France and Italy.

A Convention Instituting the Definitive Statute of the Danube was drawn up at Paris in July 1921. It embodied most of the relevant provisions of the previous treaties, reaffirmed the authority of the European Commission and defined the powers and organization of the International Commission. Provision was made to permit the entry into the European Commission by unanimous consent of other European states having sufficient maritime commercial interests at the mouth of the Danube.

The status of the European Commission met with continued objection on the part of Rumania and in August 1938 a protocol was signed at Sinaia which left the Commission little more than a consultative and advisory body. On March 1, 1939 the European Commission admitted Germany to membership on a basis of complete equality. With the outbreak of the present European war the European Commission, which had proved a powerful and effective international authority preparing and promoting navigation and police regulations for the maritime Danube, ceased to function. The International Commission, which was authorized by the Convention of 1921 to prepare programs of river improvement and regulations to be enforced by the individual states, had less power and a far shorter span of activity than the European Commission and had never assumed the same importance. Germany withdrew in November 1936 and remained out until it was in a position to dominate the entire length of the Danube and to control both Commissions.

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Extensive plans for German utilization and control of the Danube developed after Munich. With the meeting of the European Commission in the autumn of 1939 the German representative became chairman and Great Britain and France were no longer represented. A year later, under German guidance, both Commissions were suppressed and replaced by an amalgamated Danube Commission including the riparian states and Italy.

Russia, a party to the Treaty of Paris of 1856, was a member of the European Commission until 1919 but was excluded from both Commissions after the first World War. Following the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia in the summer of 1940 and after Soviet representations to Germany an agreement was negotiated abolishing the European Commission and the International Commission and setting up an Amalgamated Danube Commission consisting of the USSR, Germany, Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Yugoslavia. A conference on Danube problems was held in Bucharest in October 1940 but without results since agreement apparently could not be reached on the control of the mouth of the river. Germany remained in effective control of the entire course of the river from July 1941 until 1944.

A British suggestion for a provisional international administration of the Danube made during the Rumanian armistice negotiations, was not included in the armistice terms. Soviet authorities have control under the terms of the armistice agreements with Rumania,3 Bulgaria 4 and Hungary,5 of all shipping on the Danube. Official and unofficial Soviet statements in recent years indicate that the Soviet Union, which in 1940–41 and again since September 1944 borders on the lower Danube, considers itself a “Danubian power” entitled to participate in any regime of control which may be established. The Soviet Government may also wish to limit membership in such a regime to the riparian states.

  1. The pertinent provisions of this treaty, and of the other agreements mentioned in this Briefing Book paper and not separately cited, are quoted in Fred L. Hadsel, comp., “Principal Treaties and Conventions Relating to Freedom of Navigation on the Danube”, in Department of State, Documents and State Papers, vol. i, p. 250.
  2. See articles 347 and 348 of the Treaty, Foreign Relations, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vol. xiii, pp. 664665
  3. Executive Agreement Series No. 490; 59 Stat. (2) 1712.
  4. Executive Agreement Series No. 437; 58 Stat. (2) 1498.
  5. Executive Agreement Series No. 456; 59 Stat. (2) 1321.