Two major issues now influence the effective governance of transboundary pollution in major watercourses such as the River Danube: One is institutional responsiveness in light of changes in global politics and the other relates to the dynamics of the river ecosystem itself. As a result of shifts in economic and political activities arising from globalization a new geography is taking shape in which many nation-states have become 'hollowed-out' and unable to deal properly with environmental issues across varying geographic scales. Without strong institutional frameworks and clear leadership, pathological syndromes can flourish, leading to further significant environmental problems and disparities in ecosystem health.
Similarly, ecosystems do not exist in a steady state; they constantly react to both external and internal changes in ways that cause sudden, and sometimes dramatic, shifts in their make-up. Changes can occur because of subtle long-term alterations as well as catastrophic events. However, if an ecosystem has a high degree of resilience it may recover from a catastrophic event without any intervention. It is very important to understand whether or not particular ecosystems are or are not likely to recover, so that appropriate contingency planning, especially for transboundary aquatic ecosystems, can be undertaken. However, embedding resilience within current management regimes requires a shift in thinking from operating on an ad hoc basis where ecosystems are treated as static entities to one based on the generic principles of dynamical systems.
This paper explores the ramifications of various ecological, legal and social processes on transboundary aquatic system management of the River Danube in central and eastern Europe.