On November 1, the International Danube School, hosted this year by University оf Ruse , brought together 40 academics, post-doctoral and PhD students, BRIE master degree holders and bachelor level students from 7 countries. The network of the project – Bulgarian-Romanian Interuniversity Europe Center (BRIE), Baden Württemberg Foundation, European Danube Academy, European Initiatives without limits NGO and Ruse Free City Foundation supported the organization of a conference under the motto HOPE to mark the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty on European Union on 1 November 1993.

Mayor of Ruse Plamen Stoilov, the director of Ruse Free Spirit City Foundation, Elena Minkova, the Rector of the University – Prof. Hristo Beloev, DSc and the Dean of the Faculty of Business and Management Assoc. Prof. Alexander Petkov, PhD addressed the conference participants with welcome speeches. The Mayor said, he was delighted that this high-ranking event was taking place in Ruse and extended congratulations and sincere gratitude to all project partners: BRIE, Baden-Württemberg Stiftung, European Danube Academy (Ulm/Neu-Ulm), European Initiatives without limits and Ruse Free Spirit City Foundation. Last but not least, he greeted University of Ruse for having been the first institution in Bulgaria to introduce European Studies into the national higher education – initially at Bachelor, and later at Master and PhD level. In his speech the Rector of University of Ruse also emphasized the fact, that the city of Ruse has been the first in Bulgaria to provide a shelter for the development of European Studies in the autumn of 1993, the year, when on 8th March Bulgaria signed its Association Agreement with the European Community. The results of this development deserve highest appreciation and respect, he said referring to the fact, that the bachelor and the master level studies are delivered for international students in English, and the PhD programme is an opportunity for the best graduates. He concluded, that this conference is an excellent evidence of a potential, which has been unlocked to become internationally visible as a Danubean and European center of academic and research cooperation.

At the heart of the conference discussion four key roles of the Union were positioned: Harnessing Regions’ strengths; Overcoming weaknesses of states; proactively responding to global threats and opportunities; Elaborating Future Policy Priorities. It was opened by Assoc. prof. M. Kornazheva, PhD, director of BRIE and conference scientific supervisor. She elaborated on the question why we hope? by focusing on the history of EU as an evolving political and economic crisis management capacity, and as an resilient political and economic environment, which has secured rights, freedoms and well-being of European citizens.

In the first panel B. Gruber (Regensburg, Germany), B. Tsenova and T. Reisser (Ulm / Neu Ulm, Germany), I. Markova, Y. Petrov and A. Alipiev, Bulgaria (Ruse, Bulgaria) outlined the growing importance of regionalism/decentralization and European regions (incl. the Danube region) in the multilevel governance of the EU. Dr. S. Karapchanski, Deputy Mayor of Rousse, presented the impact of EU 2014-2020 cohesion policy on the sustainable urban development of Ruse region. Drivers of change such as the Danube School and other forms of cross-border and transnational cooperation were introduced and analyzed.

The second panel referred to weaknesses of nation states, which challenge European Union multi-level governance. Dr. B. Stancheva determined deficits of liberal democracy, E. Parvanova analyzed manifestations of separatism, M. Nikolov commented on the demographic crisis, Dr. H. Sokolova presented theory of success and practices of illegitimate success in Bulgaria and Hungary, E. Veysalova discussed rights of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria from a post-communist perspective, Dr. O. Sumer (Turkey) pointed to the problem of weak political participation.

The third panel offered views on EU in the context of a complex foreign policy environment. S. Kirova saw a synergy effect in linking the Strategy for the Danube Region to the Eastern Dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy. M. Kiosia from Moldova sought an answer to the question of whether stability of the turbulent eastern border of the EU is attainable. Dr. N. Venelinova examined theoretical and empirical aspects of the threat of fake news. A. Yemelyanova from Ukraine commented on the situation in the country as oversupply of historical legacy, a limited space for maneuver at present and availability of opportunities for the future. Mahmoud Zahra from Al Quds University, Jerusalem, discussed aspects of Israel’s political relations with European countries from 1948 to 1990. D. Imbia of Cameroon made an overview of EU policies in response to the migration crisis, and Edmund Muaka referred to the European Union as a model for the unification of African countries.

The last panel was related to the upcoming political cycle in 2019 and the forthcoming discussion on EU priorities. A. Delchev expressed his belief, that intelligent management will address some of the problems of protecting EU’s external borders. Milena Dimitrova commented on the decisions of the EU Court on migration policy in view of the principle of solidarity, and referred to the urgent need to assure a legally binding definition of the concept of solidarity. Dr. Andrea Radu from Romania offered an innovated perspective to the communication problems and the must to address them through the creation of EU’s single digital voice. The last presentation was devoted to the significant place in the European policy that the young generation must fight for, to the experience it needs and to a successful practice in this respect – the European Youth Event as an initiative of the European Parliament since 2014.

The conference proceedings will be published. All speakers and participants express their gratitude to project HOPE partners and supporters.