Ohrid, Struga and Pogradec agreed jointly to seek funds from international donors.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Ohrid -- 22/08/13
Ohrid fosters relations with Struga and Pogradec in Albania to improve the regional economy and ecology. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
Three border towns in Macedonia and Albania are working jointly to obtain EU funds for cross-border co-operation as well as additional funds from international organisations and foundations.
The mayors of Ohrid, Struga and Pogradec recently agreed to co-operate on specific projects to protect Ohrid Lake, promote the region as a tourist destination and open new border crossings.
Local governments agreed to enhance communication by holding joint meetings several times a year.
The region surrounding the Ohrid Lake needs new forms of co-operation, said Ohrid Mayor Nikola Bakraceski. "There is desire, motivation and energy among we mayors as well as local government institutions to tap in a more organised manner the international actors and implement in that way all our ideas and visions to improve the region's tourism and economy," he told SETimes.
Bakraceski said co-operation is necessary to achieve synergy, given the available natural resources and cultural-historical heritage.
"This region has a climate and ecological characteristics that make it unique in Europe and beyond. Our common goal is to formulate a joint strategy to define the future economic policies in order to develop the region," Bakraceski added.
Construction of the lake's waste collection system has begun but has not been finished in Albania or Macedonia, and the municipalities cannot manage the project financially by themselves. Local authorities said protection of the Ohrid Lake's ecosystem is the highest priority and will be factored in seeking funds from international donors.
Another aspect of increased co-operation concerns the agreement to use personal IDs instead of passports to ease movement across the border.
"It is time to remove even the personal IDs as well as to open more border crossings and free travel through the lake," Artan Shkembi, mayor of Podgradec in Albania, told SETimes.
Shkembi said he will initiate the procedure to open a new border crossing between Radozda and Lin, 10 kilometres from one another.
At present, locals have to travel more than 50 kilometres to get to the closest border crossing at Kjafasan.
"There is an opportunity for international organisations to finance [the construction of the new border crossing] through a joint project which we will implement, and I hope we succeed," Shkembi said.
It is time to emphasise the connections among the three towns rather than their separateness, the officials said.
"The mayors should now lead a charge, together with the state governments, to promote the story that the lake connects the towns as well as it brings about citizen prosperity and development," Struga Mayor Zijadin Sela told SETimes.
Sela lamented the three towns have not used the available EU and other funds, especially because they have faced the same problems for years.
"That is why now we will work to solve all problems through specific projects to have a cleaner environment but also to develop the economy of the region through tourism and an increasing number of investments," Sela said.
Local businessmen have scheduled a meeting in Tirana next month, to be joined by business people from Korca and Elbasan, in the vicinity of the Ohrid Lake.
The municipalities agreed to appear jointly at tourist fairs where they will present what the Ohrid Lake region has to offer.
Local authorities said they will include Greece in attempts to secure the EU's IPA programme funds for the 2014 season and beyond, according to Gjoko Apostolov, manager for tourism at the Ohrid municipality.
"That programme concerns the 2014-2020 period. One of our joint activities will be tourist promotion of the entire region and joint attendance at tourist fairs abroad," Apostolov told SETimes.
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