14 February 2017: A historic day for transboundary Prespa

The environmental NGOs urge the three littoral countries and the European Union to quickly move ahead with the operation of the transboundary Prespa Park

The uninhabited island of Mali Grad belongs to the core zone of the Prespa National Park and turns into a sea of blossom every spring. © Roland Knauer

Last Tuesday, 14th February 2017, was a historic day for Greece’s policy record in the field of nature conservation and sustainable development. The Parliament of the country ratified with an overwhelming majority the international Agreement for the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Prespa Park Area. The Agreement was signed on 2nd February 2010 by the Ministers of Environment of the 3 littoral countries and the EU Commissioner for the Environment but Greece had not ratified it for the 7 ensuing years. Nonetheless it now has done so and the Agreement is free to enter into force and be implemented.

This development is pivotal for Greece as it is the first time that this country goes ahead with the official establishment of a system of permanent collaboration in a border area that is protected for its outstanding biodiversity. The case of Prespa provides an instance of Greece overcoming its economic malaise and overall insecurity and boldly visualizing and building the future of an area small in size and population but intensely symbolic. The participation of the EU as a contracting party in the Prespa Agreement reconfirms exactly how important the region is from the environmental, geopolitical and symbolic viewpoint.

Besides its importance for Prespa and Greece, the implementation of the 2010 Agreement will definitely be a milestone for SE Europe too. In 2000 the Declaration on the establishment of the transboundary Prespa Park relayed a message of peace and cooperation among the peoples of the region, right after the years of great upheavals and wars of the ‘90s. In today’s world of insecurity, introversion and new nationalisms, implementation of the international Agreement for the Prespa Park acquires again an optimistic symbolism as it will cultivate friendship and peaceful coexistence for the sustainable prosperity of local societies on the basis of nature conservation. It is thus reconfirmed that environmental protection is not a restriction but an opportunity and a means for sustainable development; it is also reiterated that the way forward is not isolationism and hostility but bridging differences and building synergies for the benefit of all.

These are the underlying ideas also of the European Green Belt, where the Prespa basin lies. The EuroNatur Foundation – as a chair of the European Green Belt Association – congratulates the Greek Parliament for this important decision and calls on the three littoral countries sharing the Prespa Park to promptly implement the agreement.

The undersigned 5 environmental organizations - EuroNatur, KORA, MES, PPNEA and SPP - we acknowledge with joy this day that marks the beginning of a new more mature phase in transboundary cooperation in the Prespa basin. Its main feature will hopefully be the operation of new permanent and official joint institutions with the participation alongside state authorities of local authorities, protected area authorities and environmental NGOs, i.e. all significant stakeholders who believe in the effectiveness of this model of local and transboundary governance. We surely pledge to support this process with all our means.

Editor’s notes
1. The 2nd February (World Wetlands Day of the Ramsar Convention) has always been an important date for the Prespa Lakes: The Prespa Park was established on 2nd February 2000 with a joint Declaration by the Prime Ministers of the three countries. The ‘International Agreement for the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Prespa Park’ was signed on 2nd February 2010 by the three countries, who are sharing the rare ecosystem of Prespa Lakes, and the EU Commissioner for the Environment. This is in fact one of the most significant agreements for the comprehensive protection of a catchment basin and Ramsar wetlands in Southeast Europe, aiming at the conservation of the natural environment and sustainable development of the region through a standing mechanism of transboundary cooperation.
2. The PrespaNet is an environmental NGO network, founded on February 2013 and consists of MES (Macedonian Ecological Society) based in Skopje, SPP (the Society for the Protection of Prespa) based in Agios Germanos, Prespa, and PPNEA (Protection and Preservation of the Natural Environment in Albania) based in Tirana.
3. The European Green Belt extends for over 12,500 kilometres as a corridor of extraordinary biodiversity along the former border between East and West from the Barents to the Black Sea. The currently most ambitious nature conservation initiative of Europe intends to transform the former Iron Curtain into a line of life and thus makes a substantial contribution to the preservation of the green infrastructure of our continent. Along the Green Belt romantic forests and swamps, species-rich cultural landscapes as well as wild mountain and river landscapes string together like you hardly will find them anywhere else in Europe. The Belt connects eight biogeographic regions and 24 states and extends in four parts across the continent. www.europeangreenbelt.org
4. The European Green Belt Association: Since 2011, EuroNatur (Regional Coordinator for the Balkan Green Belt) and BUND (Regional Coordinator for the Central European Green Belt) together with an international coordination group coordinate the initiative. In 2014, the “European Green Belt Association” was founded, which represents the European Green Belt Initiative and takes on the coordination. Governmental and non-governmental actors work together in the Association.

For more information

Katharina Grund, EuroNatur (e-mail: katharina.grund@euronatur.org; t:+49 7732 9272 10)
Manuela vonArx, KORA (e-mail:m.vonarx@kora.ch; t: +41 31 951 70 40)
Daniela Zaec, MES (e-mail: zaec@mes.org.mk; t:+389 78 335 854)
Vivi Roumeliotou, SPP (e-mail:v.roumeliotou@spp.gr; t:+30 23850 51211) 
Klaudja Koci, PPNEA (e-mail: k.koci@ppnea.org; t: +355 4 2256 257)

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