Transboundary collaboration at the inaugural meetings of the formal interstate Prespa Park institutions
Collaboration between all the states and bodies that share the Prespa lakes basin has always been a key long-term strategic goal of the Society for the Protection of Prespa (SPP). Without this it is difficult for any one side alone to achieve the effective protection of the natural ecosystem and biodiversity, the effective management of common resources, particularly water, and the sustainable well-being of local communities. The more specific goal of formal interstate co-operation in the transboundary Prespa Park has always been considered highly ambitious, due to the difficult geopolitical circumstances in the Western Balkans and the lack of an institutional tradition in such types of permanent co-operation regimes for the conservation of biodiversity, water management and sustainable development along the borders of the states involved, Albania, Greece and North Macedonia.
Last week we had the immense pleasure of witnessing and participating in a milestone event for achieving this difficult and ambitious goal. The inaugural meetings of the Prespa Park Management Committee (PPMC) and the Working Group on Water Management (WGWM) took place on the shores of Lesser Prespa Lake at the Prespa National Park Information Centre in Pyli, 22 years since the prime ministers of the three countries proclaimed the establishment of the transboundary Prespa Park and twelve years since the Agreement on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Prespa Park Area was signed by the environment ministers of the three states and the European Commission (EC). In these historic meetings representatives of the EC, the environment ministries from the three states, local authorities, environmental NGOs and protected area authorities participated and discussed together in an extremely positive atmosphere.
In the 1st Regular Meeting of the PPMC the terms of reference of the committee, its Secretariat and the advisory WGWM were unanimously approved. Likewise a road map for the implementation of the Agreement over a period of two years was approved, including priority actions like the regular operation of the joint bodies established by the Agreement, the establishment of new transboundary Working Groups for issues of common interest, such as the monitoring and conservation of biodiversity and sustainable tourism, and holding trilateral meetings for issues such as a joint response to emergencies and the harmonisation of fishing regulations in the lakes. Further priority actions are to evaluate the implementation of the Strategic Action Plan for the Sustainable Development of the Prespa Park, which has governed transboundary collaboration in the Prespa Park since its inception in 2000, and moreover to update the plan. In addition, the meetings unanimously approved the workplans of the PPMC and its Secretariat for the remainder of 2022, at the end of which the 2nd meeting of the joint bodies will be held online.
At the 1st Meeting of the WGWM the competent authorities from the three countries and the EC defined the priorities of their collaboration for water management in the Prespa lakes basin. Particular importance was given to the exchange of information and data between the three sides, with the creation of a digital platform, while the creation and pilot application of a system for water monitoring and evaluation with a harmonised methodology was also deemed very important. For this purpose, the WGWM approved a proposal presented by the Greek Biotope/Wetland Centre on behalf of the Prespa Water Forum, a trilateral network of scientists who work with the national water monitoring systems. This network has been co-ordinated by the SPP for the past four years, with funding from the Prespa Ohrid Nature Trust (PONT)
The two-day work of the joint bodies of the transboundary Prespa Park was completed with the signing of summarised minutes of the meetings by the heads of the four Parties to the Agreement.
It is our profound hope that this is only the start of a long-term, and especially productive, process. A crucial parameter for its future, as was admitted with complete consensus by the PPMC, is the stable operation of the quadrilateral Secretariat of the PPMC, which is essential for implementing and promoting any decisions taken during the meetings. This is not yet a given and the implementation of these first meetings was based to a great degree on the work of the SPP, which is the member of the Secretariat for Greece, in addition to its participation as the representative of Greek NGOs in the PPMC.
In closing, we wish to sincerely and openly thank the environmental member organisations of the SPP (Arcturos, Elliniki Etairia – Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage, Friends of Prespa, Goulandris Natural History Museum, Hellenic Ornithological Society, Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos – MedINA, WWF Greece, and permanent observers Danish Ornithological Society, Tour du Valat) who have supported the promotion of transboundary co-operation as a central goal of our work for over two decades, never faltering despite the difficulties and delays, particularly our esteemed Honorary Presidents, Mr Thymios Papayannis and the late Dr Luc Hoffmann, who were amongst the few people who conceived this vision at a time – exactly 23 years ago – when it did not seem as though it would have any realistic chance of succeeding.
The PPMC and WGWM were organised under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment and Energy of Greece (MoEE), whose officials presided over the meetings, while the Natural Environment and Climate Change Agency (NECCA), is a member of the Prespa Park Management Committee, and through the Management Unit of Prespes National Park and Protected Areas of Western Macedonia, offered venues and technical assistance for their organisation, with funds provided by the Green Fund, within the programme “Natural environment and innovative activities 2022”. The Municipality of Prespa is a member of the Prespa Park Management Committee and co-funded the organisation of the meetings, while the Society for the Protection of Prespa is also a member of the committee, and the PPMC Secretariat which supported the holding of the meetings, with the support of the Prespa Ohrid Nature Trust (PONT).