Stara Planina joins Association of Border Regions

Euroregion application officially accepted after just one year

March 21, 2009 | By Tijana Stamenkovic
A bird's-eye view from Babin Zub, Knjnazevac Municipality, Serbia. Photo: REC Serbia

Just one year after being established, Euroregion Stara Planina has been officially accepted into the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR). The AEBR executive committee accepted the Stara Planina application of June 29. Furthermore, AEBR Secretary General Martin Guillermo-Ramirez sent an invitation to Euroregion Stara Planina members to participate at the AEBR's general assembly and annual conference, which was held on September 13-15 in Lappeenranta, Finland. The September gathering will provide an opportunity for Euroregion exchange and discussion about similar EU structures.

The Euroregion Stara Planina general assembly adopted the AEBR's charter, statute and fee regulation during a May 18 meeting in Pirot, Serbia. Official correspondence and preparation of all needed documents were carried out by REC site coordinators from Serbia and Bulgaria. The AEBR, now in its 36th year, is a registered association acting on behalf of European border and cross-border regions. Its principal aims are to: identify particular problems, opportunities, tasks and projects; represent regional interests; initiate, support and coordinate border region cooperation throughout Europe; and exchange experiences and information to best take advantage of opportunities and to develop coordinated solutions to shared problems.

Siding with the future

Euroregion Stara Planina working groups on both sides of the border began work on a strategic document during a two-day workshop in Lukavica, Serbia (Dimitrovgrad Municipality), a village near the Serbia-Bulgaria border and in Berkovitza, a town in Bulgaria. The participants were local experts in environment, culture & sport, tourism, infrastructure and agriculture. The first draft of the document was sent to all interested participants for comment, and it was agreed to hold a public discussion in September.

The first draft was then presented to Euroregion mayors at the third assembly meeting on August 10 in Babin Zub, Knjazevac Municipality, at which the Euroregion logo was discussed. The logo will be protected by international law and presented to the media in October.

It was also agreed at this meeting that a project proposal for a REC grant would help to strengthen the Euroregion's work capacity. The REC's "Implementation of Pilot Action from the Euroregion Action Plan" project for this year is within the framework of the Regional Enviromental Reconstruction Program (REReP).

As part of the same project, REC site coordinators organised a June study tour for Euroregion Stara Planina mayors and secretaries to the Euroregion comprising northeast Slovenia and the Austrian state (or, Land) of Styria. One of the aims of the study tour was to create partnerships for future joint initiatives. Maribor's development agency director, Marjana Kraitner Lozina, hosted the event. Representatives from Serbia and Bulgaria had a chance to see several projects undertaken through the Austrian-Slovenian partnership, which was established in 2001. Visiting mayors, meanwhile, met with Maribor Mayor Franc Kangler.

Making a particular impression on tour participants were projects on Mount Pohorje that were finally completed after having been abandoned during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Efforts from the Maribor Development Agency have now transformed this alpine location into an extremely popular tourist destination. Participants also had a chance learn about various tourism, infrastructure and cultural exchange projects between Austria and Slovenia.

Close and growing closer

Euroregion Stara Planina was created through a framework agreement signed by both parties in Sofia on June 20, 2006. The signatories are associations of municipalities representing local border authorities, the Regional Association for Tourism Development in the North-West Balkans (representing seven Bulgarian municipalities), and the Association for Development of the Stara Planina Region (representing four Serbian municipalities). The purpose of Euroregion Stara Planina is to foster cross-border cooperation in tourism, agriculture, culture, environment and infrastructure — priorities chosen to allow broad stakeholder interaction on both sides of the border. The aim is also to assist the Bulgarian and Serbian governments in planning and execution of their territorial cooperation and regional development policies.

The aforementioned activities have been carried out under the project Transboundary Cooperation through the Management of Shared Natural Resources in South-Eastern Europe, and implemented in three transboundary areas: Skadar (Shkodra) Lake, the Neretva Delta and West Stara Planina. Additional support has come from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation within the framework of REReP. The West Stara Planina component of the project dates back to 2001.

For more coverage on the Balkan environment, see the REReP webpage.