The Danube—Its importance to Roumania—To Great Britain—Statistics of British and foreign vessels trading there—Nature of the freight—Cereals—Our imports thence compared with those from other states—Importance of Roumania as a maize-grower—Effect of the Russo-Turkish war on Danubian trade—The Danubian Commission—Its history—Austria and Roumania—The Callimaki-Catargi despatches—Alleged pretensions and designs of Austria—Necessity for the neutrality of the Danube—Pending negotiations.

There is perhaps no question of greater real moment to the newly erected kingdom than the free navigation of the Danube; for whether its possessions are limited on the southern boundary by that river, or whether at some future time they should extend beyond it, the reader cannot fail to see from what has preceded that the Danube is the great artery through which, so to speak, the industrial life-blood of the nation circulates. But if it be a matter of primary importance to Roumania, it is hardly less so to ourselves. The greater part of the external trade of the countries bordering on the Danube which passes in and out of the Sulina mouth, the only navigable embouchure, is carried on in British bottoms, as the following figures will show:—

Tonnage entering and leaving the Danube in 1880.

  Steamers Tonnage Sailing Ships Tonnage Total Ships Total Tonnage
British flag 479 408,492 15 4,214 494 412,706
All other nations 242 150,536 1,526 238,312 1,768 384,848
Total 721 559,028 1,541 238,526 2,262 797,554

Thus it will be seen that the carrying trade of Great Britain to and from the Danube amounts to nearly 30,000 tons more than that of all other nations put together. And now as regards the nature of the goods carried. They consist outwards (from Roumania, &c.) of cereals, and inwards of a great variety of manufactured goods. Of the former 5,394,729 quarters were exported in 1879; and it may be said generally that Roumania receives in return almost every article of consumption in the way of manufactured productions, and notably from this country cottons and cotton yarn, woollens, coals, and iron.

In any year of scarcity our importations of feeding stuffs from the Danube would become a most important factor, for in 1881 the Board of Trade returns show the following comparative importations:—

Imports of Cereals in 1880.

From United States 68,138,992
" Russia 12,830,851
" Canada 9,455,076
" India 6,458,100
" Roumania 4,355,344

All other countries, including Egypt, which is considered by no means unimportant as a grain-producing country, sent us less cereals than Roumania; and when we look at one species of grain, namely, maize, which is considered equal to what is known as American mixed, and is capable of being much more largely cultivated than at present, we find Roumania third on the list; indeed, for some reason or other, her exports fell off very materially last year, for in 1879 she ranked second:—

Imports of Maize in 1880.

From United States 31,087,773
" Canada 3,322,327
" Roumania 1,764,482

We shall have to touch on this branch of the subject again; but if the reader wishes to satisfy himself of the great importance to this country of unrestricted trade on the Danube, he has only to refer to the annual returns of the Board of Trade, and he will find that in 1876, when the ports were closed in consequence of the last Russo-Turkish war, our trade practically ceased, and that it has hardly yet recovered from the effects of the stoppage.

Indeed, the question of Danubian navigation has been for some time past recognised as one of European importance, and after the Crimean war, when the great Powers took away from Russia a small portion of Bessarabia abutting upon the embouchures of the Danube, an International Commission was appointed, consisting of representatives of those Powers and of Roumania, whose duty it was to maintain the neutrality and the free navigation of the Danube at its entrance, for which purpose they were authorised to levy tolls and construct works. Subsequently the term of this commission was renewed for twelve years from 1871 (until next year therefore), and the neutrality of works existing at the expiration of the treaty was declared permanent. By the Treaty of San Stefano (Art. xii.) and the subsequent Congress of Berlin, 1878, all fortresses on the Danube were ordered to be dismantled, and men-of-war, with the exception of guard-ships, were excluded. The rights, obligations, and prerogatives of the International Commission were maintained intact, and (at the Berlin Congress) its jurisdiction was extended to the Iron Gates.

This is everything of historical note that has, until quite recently, been published with authority on the subject, but to those who are interested either commercially or politically it has been well known that the commission was not working smoothly, and that differences had arisen between Austria and Roumania concerning their respective jurisdiction. This first found public utterance in the Roumanian speech from the throne last year, when the King said that his Government was prepared to defend its rights to control the navigation of the Danube in Roumanian waters, or words to that effect. What followed is contemporary history. Austria, regarding this as an affront intended for herself, threatened to withdraw her ambassador, and Roumania apologised. In the meantime, however, M. Callimaki-Catargi, a former Minister of Roumania in Paris and London, published in an unauthorised manner a long correspondence between the Roumanian Foreign Secretary and himself, which contained a statement of the Danubian difficulty that had been handed to Lord Granville. It was circulated largely in France and Roumania, and is interesting in relation to future events. According to M. Catargi, Austria has endeavoured, almost since the establishment of the commission, to resist its action where she supposed such action trenched upon her interests and jurisdiction, whilst, on the other hand, she has been aggressive upon the rights of her neighbours. It appears from his statement that when it was attempted to form a 'Riverside Commission' to take the place of the original European Commission, and keep the whole course of the Danube clear (a very desirable object, as the reader will have seen from our description of the Iron Gates), Austria objected to any interference with her jurisdiction over that part of the Danube which flowed through her territory. But when more recently the commission appointed a sub-committee to study the lower Danube, and to report to it with such recommendations as would ensure the carrying out of the project in its integrity, it was found that some unseen influence had been at work to change and pervert the entire constitution and objects of the commission.

The report was made, but it was found quite inappropriate to the desired end, as it ignored the freedom of the navigation, the question of the coasting trade, &c.; whilst, on the other hand, it proposed a 'mixed commission, which was to be an executive committee, not at all contemplated by the Treaty of Berlin, and which brought to light pretensions of a new order.'

Those pretensions were an attempt on the part of one power, namely, Austria, to dominate the whole course of the river. The Executive Commission was to consist of four members, representing Austria, Servia, Roumania, and Bulgaria, and the Austrian commissioner was to preside and to have a casting vote. Servia has a very small interest in the river, as her territory extends only a few miles below the Iron Gates, and it is essential to her very existence to remain on friendly terms with her powerful neighbour, so that 'it results that Austria, who is already mistress of the upper Danube, would obtain further privileges and a veritable supremacy over the remainder of its course.'

M. Catargi goes on to tell Earl Granville 'that if Austria succeeded in securing her domination she would throw every obstacle in the way of the importation of the products of the Western nations into the great basin of the Danube in order to secure the monopoly of her own.'

This is the present condition of the Danubian question, and we have reason to believe that negotiations are proceeding which are intended to pave the way for a settlement next year. From what we know of those who represent British interests in the matter, we feel satisfied that those interests will be carefully guarded; but this must not prevent us from bearing in mind international principles and rights everywhere recognised as equitable, and which we feel confident will not be lost sight of in the negotiations. Roumania is the most deeply interested; she has a perfect right to the executive control of the navigation of the Danube in her own waters, subject to her engagements with the Powers. The contention put forward more or less officially by Austria, that if this right were conceded to Roumania the other riparian Powers might claim the same privilege, is answered by the simple statement that such right is theirs already, as much as it is the right of Austria to control the navigation of the Danube at Pesth or Vienna, of Germany to regulate that of the Rhine at Cologne, or Belgium at Rotterdam. So far as England is concerned, it needed not the revelations of M. Catargi to acquaint us with the fact that Austria will do as she has done, namely, attempted to limit our trade in the basin of the Danube; and our interests and those of Roumania are therefore identical.

But it is to be hoped that passing events in that part of Europe will cure Austria of her aggressive tendencies, and that she will not assume the same attitude towards the Powers as she did towards her weaker neighbour. She will gain more by co-operating loyally with her to improve the navigation of the lower Danube than by striving either openly or secretly to secure a predominance which she could not permanently maintain even if her present efforts were successful.