2/2/2020, 20 years of the Transboundary Prespa Park
2 lakes, 2 decades of transboundary collaboration, more than 2020 steps taken for the protection of Prespa
It is well known that Prespa is one of the most important places for nature in Europe, due to its ancient lakes and the fact that such a wide variety of forms of life is found in such avelyl area. Its rare biodiversity is made up of hundreds of species of birds, thousands of pliant species, lendemic fish, rare mammals and unusual habitat types, ftime rom wet meadows by the lakeside to the sub-alpine meadows high in the mountains which surround the lakes. However, Prespa also has another important reason to feel proud. It was the first – and for a longthe only – place in the troubled Balkans where the states and the people that share the area built bridges in order to safeguard its natural and cultural values and sustainable development. This cross-border co-operation, despite the adverse environment, has bloomed and produced fruit for two decades now.
2nd February 2020 marked 20 years to the day since the Prime Ministers of Albania, Greece and North Macedonia met together in Agios Germanos and established the “Transboundary Prespa Park” with a joint declaration, agreeing that the three countries would face the future having common goals for the protection of the natural and cultural heritage of the basin of Prespa and its sustainable development. The international Ramsar Convention for Wetlands and the MedWet initiative greeted this step with enthusiasm and many other international organisations decisively supported the effort made in the two decades which followed, while the Prespa Park process comprises a model of global significance.
Subsequently, meetings of representatives from the three sides began, trilateral committees were set up, joint actions were planned, transboundary environmental studies were implemented and important decisions on the management of the waters of the area were taken. Scientists began to exchange data and the region’s children started learning about the values of the place where they live, through a joint environmental education programme. The municipalities of the basin began to communicate with each other, planning and implementing joint activities and projects. The national parks of the area got to know one another and started holding discussions on common issues of concern and protection measures for the values of transboundary Prespa. The catchphrase born during that time was “Prespa Park: 3 countries, 2 lakes, 1 future” and it has been an inspiration for all the local organisations and stakeholders since it was first announced, despite the difficulties and obstacles along the way.
Ten years later, on 2nd February 2010, the environment ministers of the three countries and the EU commissioner for the environment came to Prespa and sealed the three states’ collaboration with an international agreement: The Agreement for the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Prespa Park. The protection of the natural wealth of Prespa and the common heritage of all three sides, as well as the development of the transboundary area at a social and economic level, formally became the joint responsibility of the three neighbouring countries. International interest in the area was strengthened, while at a regional level the local authorities welcomed the agreement with enthusiasm, a readiness to get to work and hope for the development of transboundary Prespa.
Although the agreement did not immediately enter into force, efforts for substantive, dynamic and effective cross-border dialogue were continued. During the decade which followed, when the agreement was in the process of being ratified by the national parliaments, the local municipalities and national parks continued to build bridges of co-operation in the basin, while the states also progressed with important initiatives such as the agreement to open a border crossing at Laimos, which facilitates communication between the three sides of Prespa and ultimately makes the efforts for the conservation of the area more effective. Over the same timeframe, environmental organisations from the three countries have been working together in creative ways, keeping the channel of dialogue and co-operation open. From its establishment to the present day, the PrespaNet network, as it was named, has implemented information and awareness-raising activities for the public, as well as carrying out environmental education programmes and scientific research.
In May of 2019, the states completed their internal ratification procedures and, ten years after it was signed, the 2010 agreement came into force, bringing the message that the need for the protection of the values of Prespa remained timely and ongoing. At the beginning of 2020, the local authorities and other stakeholders now await the activation of the terms of the agreement, in other words for formal meetings to begin for the committee which was foreseen in order to continue the dialogue in a more organised and regular manner, for sectors of co-operation to be explored, and for joint actions and measures to be planned and implemented.
In transboundary protected areas cross-border collaboration is essential. In Prespa this co-operation has had its ups and downs, some good and some less good moments; this work is not static, it is dynamic, full of challenges, particularities and new questions. As long as people from all over the world care about the conservation of this unique ecological treasure, so the waters of the lake will continue to lap the shores of the three countries, the exceptional birdlife will fly in the skies above them, and the people that live around the Lesser and Great Prespa lakes will co-exist, engage in dialogue and work together.