The European Commission of the Danube, 1856-1948

An Experiment in International Administration


In The European Commission of the Danube, 1856-1948 Constantin Ardeleanu offers a history of the world’s second international organisation, an innovative techno-political institution established by Europe’s Concert of Powers to remove insecurity from the Lower Danube. Delegates of rival empires worked together to ‘correct’ a vital European transportation infrastructure, and to complete difficult hydraulic works they gradually transformed the Commission into an actor of regional and international politics. As an autonomous and independent organ, it employed a complex transnational bureaucracy and regulated shipping along the Danube through a comprehensive set of internationally accepted rules and procedures. The Commission is portrayed as an effective experimental organisation, taken as a model for further cooperation in the international system.
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Constantin Ardeleanu, Ph.D. (2006), ‘Nicolae Iorga’ Institute of History, Bucharest, is Professor of Modern History at the ‘Lower Danube’ University (Galaţi). In previous years he was a Research Fellow at Utrecht University and New Europe College (Bucharest).
"Constantin Ardeleanu goes beyond the study of the Danube to offer a complementary perspective on international cooperations, as studied today in history, political science and in the social sciences generally […] This work prompts reflection on our present-day debates and controversies around the construction of a European community’."

Emmanuel Bioteau, in Francia-Recensio, 4 (2021)

“The story of the European Commission of the Danube, set up at the end of the Crimean War to reopen the mouths of one of Europe’s longest rivers for maritime commerce, proves an absorbing one in the hands of Constantin Ardeleanu […] the author makes a convincing case for regarding the ECD as ‘a Europe in miniature’, a sort of poster-child for international cooperation and regulation. The book is clearly and engagingly written, largely free from technocratic jargon.”

Ian D. Armour, in Slavonic and East European Review
List of Illustrations and Tables

 1 An ‘Experiment in International Administration’
 2 Expert Mobilisation and the Study of International Rivers
 3 The Commission and Europe’s Nascent Security Cooperation
 4 On Institutional Visibility, Corporate Branding and Expert Exposure
 5 A Brief Historiographical Survey of the Commission
 6 Outline of the Book

1 Russophobia, Free Trade and Maritime Insecurity
 1 Urquhart, Russophobia and Danube Navigation
 2 Grain and Steamship
 3 Danubian Hindrances
 4 Banditry and Corruption in Russian Sulina
 5 ‘Mistrust’, ‘Remonstrances’, ‘Vexations’
 6 The Apogee of Russian ‘Neglect’ and the Conspiracy to Close Off the Danube
 7 Conclusions

2 The Danube Question and the Making of Two River Commissions
 1 A German View on the Freedom of the Danube
 2 The Danube Question
 3 Crimean War Diplomacy and the Internationalisation of the Danube
 4 Austria’s Struggle for ‘Special and Exclusive Advantages’
 5 The Right of Non-Riparian Countries to Regulate Danube Navigation
 6 Removing Russia from the Maritime Danube – Territorial Cessions, Imperial Honour and Revisionism
 7 The Riverain Commission and the Making of the 1857 Navigation Act
 8 A Juridical Conflict between 1815 and 1856
 9 Riparians vs. Non-Riparians at the 1858 Paris Ambassadorial Conference
 10 Conclusions

3 A Quest for Authority and Autonomy
 1 On Dual Institutional Hosting
 2 On Appointing Commissioners and the Role of Expertise
 3 Early Decision-Making Mechanisms
 4 Diverging Views on the Binding Force of the Commission’s Regulations
 5 Migration and Human Insecurity in a Russian-Ottoman Borderland
 6 The Fishermen of Vylkove, Border Disputes and the Commission as a Conflict Mediator
 7 A Tansnational ‘Constitution’ – the 1865 Public Act
 8 On the Commission’s Exceptional Character
 9 Conclusions

4 ‘Civilising and Disciplining Nature’
 1 ‘The Father of the Danube’
 2 Post-Crimean War Transnational River Expertise
 3 Logistical Challenges in the Periphery
 4 Techno-Political Power Play
 5 A European Hydraulic Triumph
 6 Celebrating a European Monument of Civilisation
 7 Hartley’s Professional Prestige
 8 Exhibiting Transnational Hydraulic Success
 9 Deepening the Sulina Bar
 10 Mobile Property and Memory Politics
 11 Environmental Challenges in the Danube Delta Area
 12 ‘Civilising and Disciplining’ the River
 13 Protecting Hydraulic Works in Times of War
 14 Techno-Political Intrusions in the ‘Organic Machine’
 15 Conclusions

5 On Money, Tolls and Standards
 1 A Tour for Collecting Multilateral Financial Guarantees
 2 The Sublime Porte’s Financial Advances
 3 Perspectives on Financial (In)Security
 4 The Making of the Navigation Tariff
 5 Standardising the European Tonnage Measurement
 6 An International Organisation on the Capital Market
 7 Political Turmoil and a Test on the International Bond Market
 8 Towards Collective Financial Security
 9 Complete Financial Independence
 10 Conclusions

6 Threats, Opportunities and Institutional Survival
 1 An Hydraulic Expert
 2 Canal vs. Railway vs. River
 3 An International Organisation and a National Seaport
 4 In Defence of Organisational Reputation
 5 Narratives of Institutional Success
 6 Opening Up River Tributaries and the Establishment of a Sibling International Organisation
 7 The London Conference (1871) and the Prolongation of the Commission
 8 Gordon’s Disinterest in the Commission
 9 Stokes’ Epistemic Communities
 10 Conclusions

7 On Transnational Bureaucrats and Rulemaking
 1 An Early International Civil Service
 2 The Internal Administration of the Commission
 3 In Search of Juridical Powers
 4 The Modern Organisation of Pilotage
 5 Regulating Lighterage Operations
 6 Pensions for International Civil Servants
 7 Categories of Staff and Their Immunities
 8 Appointment and Promotion Procedures
 9 Administrative Works In Favour of Navigational Safety
 10 A Statistical Perspective on Shipping Security
 11 Conclusions

8 The Lower Danube and Romanian Nation-Making
 1 An Invitation to Transnational Expert Cooperation
 2 ‘A Gift of the Danube’ – Thinking Romania’s Geopolitical Relevance
 3 Southern Bessarabia and the Securitisation of the Maritime Danube
 4 Europe’s Concert and the Danube Question
 5 The Berlin Congress as a Security Management Institution
 6 ‘In Complete Independence of Territorial Authority’
 7 ‘The Freedom of the Danube Is a Key Condition for the Political and Economic Development of Riparian States’
 8 The Fluvial Danube – between Austrian Hydro-Imperialism and European Multilateralism
 9 The 1883 London Danubian Conference – a Story of Inclusion/Exclusion
 10 International Law and the Danube Question
 11 Conclusions

9 Europolis – from a Piratical Republic to a Collective Colony
 1 Europolis – from Literary to Scholarly Interest
 2 Imperial Security-Making and a ‘Piratical Republic under Austrian Protection’
 3 Law and Order in Early Ottoman Sulina
 4 On the Beginnings of Peacekeeping Corps – European Warships at Sulina
 5 From Shipping Security to the Making of a Free-Trade Zone
 6 Steaming to Profit – Commercial Opportunities at the Lower Danube in the Post-Crimean War Context
 7 On Schleps and Tariffs
 8 From Transnational Brigands to European Bureaucrats
 9 Urban Transformations – Geological Cosmopolitanism and Modern Public Services
 10 Cholera, Malaria, Typhoid Fever – on the Danube Delta’s Silent Threats
 11 Cosmopolitan Headstones and Their Stories of Insecurity
 12 Conclusions

10 Between Experimentalism and Anachronism – the Road to the Abolishment of the European Commission of the Danube
 1 The Limits of Neutrality – the Commission during the First World War
 2 Internationalism and Exceptionalism – the Danube Regime at the Paris Peace Congress
 3 ‘The Most Unbelievable Anachronism’ – Revisionism along the Lower Danube
 4 Between the Nazis and the Soviets – the Commission in the Second World War
 5 ‘The Door Was Open to Come In; the Same Door Is Open to Go Out’ – the Danube under Soviet Hegemony
 6 The Danube Commission – Inclusion and Exclusion


Historians of nineteenth and twentieth centuries European history, scholars and students in the history of international relations, international organisations, science and technology studies. Keywords: Danube, Danube Delta, Sulina, Romania, Southeastern Europe, Danube Commission, international organizations, international relations, 1856-1940, river histories, technopolitics, internationalism, navigation.
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