|Monday, 19 February 2018|
Athens News Agency: News in English, 10-02-02
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Three country agreement for protection of Prespes wetlandGreece, Albania and FYROM will sign a formal agreement for protection of the unique Prespes Lakes wetland on Tuesday, on the 10th anniversary of the declaration of the Balkans' first transboundary eco-agreement,which also coincides with World Wetlands Day, when the prime ministers of the three countries pledged in a February 2, 2000 Joint Communique their commitment to cooperate to protect the Prespes ecosystem.
At the initiative of Greek prime minister George Papandreou, an informal summit of the three countries' premiers took place on November 27, 2009 at the Ramsar-protected Prespa National Park (Pyli Information Center and exhibitions facility), to discuss cooperation prospects in the protection and sustainable development of the Prespa National Park region, which straddles the borders of all three countries.
In a follow-up to that informal meeting between Papandreou, Albanian prime minister Sali Berisha and FYROM prime minister Nikola Gruevski, the environment ministers of the three countries -- Tina Birbili of Greece, Fatmir Mediu of Albania and Nexhati Jakupi of FYROM -- will sign the agreement, with European Commissioner for the environment Stavros Dimas representing the EU, while Ramsar Convention senior advisor for Europe Tobias Salathe is expected to make a brief statement.
The agreement contains specific commitments but also opportunities for the natural environment and human activities in the Prespes region, and will introduce standing cooperation structures that are deemed necessary to confront the wetlands' problems and also for the region's sustainable development.
According to Birbili, the "natural beauty and environmental importance of Prespes is acknowledged internationally, as is the need to protect it".
"In that direction, we have achieved the first inter-state agreement for the protection of an ecosystem in the Balkans. We are optimistic on the course of this collaboration with our neighboring countries and satisfied because this agreement is the culmination of a cycle of efforts to safeguard such a precious natural capital," she said.
The first step for a unified and integrated protection of the Prespes region was made in 2000 with the Declaration by the prime ministers of Greece, Albania and FYROM founding the transboundary Prespa Park, the first of its kind in the Balkans, with the purpose of preserving the area's "delicate" ecosystem but also enhancing cooperation among the peoples living around the two Prespes lakes, both at economic and cultural -- and not only -- level.
History of the cooperation
At the February 2, 2000 tripartite summit, symbolically held on the annual World Wetlands Day, the then prime ministers Costas Simitis of Greece, Ilir Meta of Albania and Ljubco Georgievski of FYROM, in a Declaration, designated the Prespes region a National Park, indeed the Balkans' first nature park, with the aim of protecting the rare species of birds and fish living in the area, and also serving as a "meeting point among the three countries and a crossroad of cultural exchange", as well as an example of promoting cooperation among Balkan countries.
Shortly after the Declaration, a trilateral informal Prespa Park Coordination Committee was set up, which served as the vehicle for communication, information exchanges and confidence-building among the three sides.
From 2001 to the present, the Coordination Committee has advanced the planning and execution of joint programs for protection of the area and improvement of the local residents' standard of living. The development of the Strategic Action Plan for the Sustainable Development of Prespa Park was one of the first major achievements of the tripartite collaboration. The Plan, financed by the Greek state, for the first time set out a framework for a comprehensive rational planning for the future of the area, and has been adopted by all three countries.
In the context of the decade-long cooperation, many local agencies (chiefly municipalities and NGOs) have been working together for the materialisation of the joint programs, while international financial organizations have provided substantial economic support.
The transboundary Prespa Park is a noteworthy example of adherence to international environmental law. Although up to the present it has been functioning without a legally binding agreement among the three countries, Prespa Park has showcased significant joint actions that contribute not only to promoting sustainable development but also active rapprochement between the neighboring peoples.
Prespes: A treasure chest of biodiversity
The Prespes basin stands out for its exquisite biodiversity, which has been acknowledged at European and global level not only for its rich fauna and flora, but for the quality and rarity of the species it 'hosts'.
More than 260 species of birds, 1,500 species of plants, 23 species of fish and 60 species of mammals make up Prespes' rare biodiversity.
The Lakes Lesser and Greater Prespa in the prefecture of Florina, in the northwestern corner of Greece, form a unique ecosystem and constitute a natural border between the three countries.
The two tectonic Lakes, among the oldest on Earth, are home to the Mediterranean's most ancient species of trout, and also the short-horn pygmy cow, both of which are threatened with extinction.
The Prespes are also among the 10 most important wetlands of the Mediterranean, while eight of the 11 fish species native to the lakes are endemic and not found anywhere else in the world.
The Prespes area is a large basin at an altitude of 850m which contains two lakes, Mikri (Lesser) and Megali (Greater) Prespa. Megali Prespa is today located in Greece, Albania and FYROM while Mikri Prespa is entirely located within Greece and Albania
According to the UNESCO World Heritage Center, the area is characterized by outstanding natural beauty and has been inhabited without interruption from antiquity (with traces of ancient inhabitation in the area of "Lemos" and on the island of Agios Achilleos) to the present day.
The local population has closely associated the area, its history and its natural beauty with myths, legends and traditions.
The Prespes region contains the highest degree of species biodiversity in a corresponding surface area in Europe. It is a unique limnetic landscape of outstanding natural beauty that includes a wealth of monuments from the Byzantine and post-Byzantine period. The uniqueness lies in the interaction between man and nature.
The area which covers the Mikri and Megali Prespes Lakes and the neighbouring slopes of Mounts Triklari and Varnunda is the largest National Park in Greece with a core area of 4,900 hectares and a surrounding zone of 14,750 hectares. It is also that with the highest biodiversity levels. It begins at an altitude of 850m and contains oak, beech, deciduous, fir and cedar forests. More than 1500 plant species and 12 forest types can be encountered in the area in which 46 mammal species live, including some of the rarest in Europe such as the wolf, bear, wild ibex and otter.
Moreover, the area is one of the most important biotopes in Greece with 260 species of birds. The grey goose (Anser anser) and the goosander (Mergus mersander), cranes (Ardeidae), cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis) and pygmy cormorants (Phalacrocorax pygmeus) nest here, as well as quite a few species of duck, terns, birds of prey, woodpeckers, etc. It is the only area in Europe other than the Danube Delta and the former USSR where two species of pelican reproduce, the White pelican (Pelecanus onocratulus) and the Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus). The water meadows surrounding the lakes are home to significant amphibian and reptile populations.
Protected areas in the three countries
Over the last few decades, all three countries have taken a series of steps to protect the unique ecosystems of Prespes.
In Albania, the Prespes National Park was established in 1999 aimed at the restoration and sustainable protection of critical land and aquatic ecosystems in the area.
In Greece, the Prespes National Park was established in 1974 for the protection of the Lesser and Greater Prespes Lakes and their outflow basin, while in 1975 the area was designated a "Place of Significant Natural Beauty". Further, the Greek section of the Lakes' basin is included in the National List of 163 areas that have been entered in the Natura 2000 network as "Special Protected Areas" (SPA) in accordance with the EU 'Birds' (conservation of wild birds, 1979) and 'Habitats' (conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora, 1992) Directives.
The Lesser Prespa Lake was designated in 1974 as a "Wetland of International Importance" under the Ramsar Convention.
In FYROM, the Pelister National Park was founded in 1948 for protection of a globally unique mountain ecosystem east of the Greater Prespa Lake, while the Galicica National Park was founded in 1958 for the restoration and protection of a unique land ecosystem extending to Mt. Galicica situated between Greater Prespa and Lake Ohrid. The Ezerani (Ramsar site) ornithological (nature) reserve was founded in 1996 for the protection of migratory and other aquatic birds. Greater Prespa was designated a "Natural Monument" in 1977.
 FinMin at Economist conf'ANA-MPA/The government is absolutely unwavering on the deep-rooted changes that need to be made, which will be to the citizens' benefit, finance minister George Papaconstantinou stressed during an Economist conference in Athens on Tuesday.
Greece needs to do what it must not because of the EU or the international markets, but because the government wishes to create healthy fiscal foundations and a juster society, he said.
The minister noted that the country mustn't simply restrict expenditure, but change the entire system, "and in this context, time is needed".
He explained that Greece's Stability and Development program attempts to in a very big wager in a just way, without sinking further into recession, adding that this was not an easy venture, but it was absolutely necessary.
Key to this was strict adherence to the Stability and Development program, Papaconstantinou said, stressing also that the deficit of confidence in the Greek economy was nearly as significant as the budget deficit. In that framework, the government's first concern is to shield credibility through actions such as the autonomisation of the national statistics service (ESYE, the draft legislation for which will be tabled in parliament in the next few days), the creation of an independent body for monitoring execution of the budget, and other relevant steps.
Papaconstantinou further pointed out that an unprecedented speculative attack was underway, with Greece as a pawn in a wider "game" targeting the euro itself.
He noted that the PASOK government inherited from its predecessors a total fiscal derailment and a Greek economy that was in recession for the first time since 1993.
The minister also underlined that a series of important issues, such as a radical change of the formula with which the state budget is drafted and monitored, tax reform (the fundamental principles of which are slated to be tabled next week), social security and public administration reform were opened up during the government's first three months in office.
The fundamental principles of the changes in the taxation system will go far beyond simple changes of tax coefficients and concern the core of the taxation system, the procedures and the monitoring system, Papaconstantinou said after his address, in response to a press question.
He further expressed confidence that the Greek Stability and Development plan will receive a go-ahead by the EU on Wednesday.
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