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Dear Minister Milevski,
Dear Mayor Georgieski,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It could not be a better moment for me to be gathered here amongst friends only a few days after the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
By extending the nomination to the one-third of Lake Ohrid that had been left out of the designation, the integrity of the lake is now significantly reinforced.
The EU has been a strong supporter of the bid with a project of 1.7 million € supporting both countries in their efforts to protect the cultural and natural heritage of the Ohrid Lake region. The project also helped prepare the UNESCO dossier of Albanian authorities. So before we start today's conference I would like to express strong congratulations to everyone involved in the candidacy for this great news and success.
The history and management of lake Ohrid show that borders should not be barriers between people but places where dialogue and cooperation between communities take place.
Territorial cooperation across borders is as important to our enlargement policy today as it has been to the construction of the European Union itself. It brings people closer together, facilitates the sharing of ideas and assets, and encourages strategic cooperation towards common political and economic goals.
In South-East Europe, cross-border cooperation covers about 3000km of borders between the participating countries. Eligible areas represent 35% of their surface and 36% of their population. As a testimony to the EU commitment to cross-border programmes, the budget has kept increasing through the years. Today, the overall EU funding for territorial cooperation in the region amounts to €100 Million. It reaches € 242 Million when you consider Member States contributions.
The Cross Border programme between North Macedonia and Albania is one example of very successful cross-border cooperation bringing the countries closer together at a social and economic level.
In Ohrid, it is easy to realise why cross-border cooperation is such a priority. On each side of the Albanian and North Macedonian border are some of the most beautiful parts of both countries which should be on the map of every tourist visiting the region. The touristic potential of this area is still undervalued and will only increase with better connectivity and better cooperation.
Today's conference also marks an occasion to reflect on how to make cooperation more efficient. Differences in political institutions, administrative systems and procedures, legal structures or technical and environmental standards can make cross-border cooperation challenging. Theories talk about the need for a “big push” and quick “take-off”. We know now that it is not so simple. Good cooperation takes time and needs strong ownership from all stakeholders involved.
CBC is for us the main instrument to work at the local level. It has direct and tangible impacts on local communities and brings much needed additional financial resources to the local level. Future Cross Border Cooperation will need to increasingly rely on the involvement of local institutions. They are the best placed to guarantee continuity and sustainability of the project results.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is often said that cooperation is the conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there. We warmly welcome the commitment of the North Macedonian and Albanian governments in implementing these programmes together.
Cross-border cooperation draws links between people, brings countries closer to EU standards, builds trust and, quite simply, is making the everyday life of communities on each side of the border better and easier.