Prime Minister Edi Rama addressed the informal government meeting of regional leaders in Athens on Monday, to which he was not invited, stating he hoped it was not used to send Albania a message and that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis should not fall foul of domestic politics.
In a Facebook post, Rama said: “I really hope that the meeting was productive and of course, I hope that the dinner was not used to send Albania a contradictory message in front of the much more ambitious goal of the initiative, and I hope that this unfortunate fact does not confuse the honoured guests.”
The informal dinner was organised on Monday evening by the Greek prime minister with the participation of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, EU Council chief Charles Michel and eight leaders of southeastern Europe: Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, Serbian President Aleksander Vucic, Montenegro President Jakov Milatovic, North Macedonia Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski and President of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Borjana Kristo.
Rama said he was happy Mitsotakis took the initiative to ‘break bread’ with regional leaders and said Greece should be more involved in regional issues.
“I have always told him or other Greek friends, saying it publicly on several occasions, that I honestly believe their country has a natural role to play in the Balkans given its profile and experience in the EU,” he added.
However, Rama pointed to Albania hosting the Berlin Summit in October, to which Mitsotakis is invited. “I could never imagine responding by inviting instead the Greek President, for whom I also have the greatest respect,” he said.
Rama continued that while he understands the pressure from third parties, “taking the opportunity to make a mountain out of a molehill” is unnecessary given the “bigger challenges” and “real mountains to climb” ahead.
He said that what unites countries in the region is greater than what divides and, “Much is at stake globally, that we become hostages of internal tribal politics.”
In exclusive comments to EURACTIV on Monday, Rama refused to comment further on the meeting but said, “Once the Balkans, always the Balkans,” in an apparent nod to the Balkan mentality.
Greek press reports suggested that Mitsotakis wanted to show that he was disturbed with Rama over the Mayor of Himare Fredi Beleri case.
Fredi Beleri, a Greek expatriate running for mayor under the banner of a Greek minority party aligned with an opposition coalition, was arrested in mid-May on suspicion of vote buying. The police said he was to be charged with active corruption in elections, something Beleri denies.
Beleri has been detained since then. Although he won the elections, he has not been allowed to be sworn in as mayor of Himare in the south of the country and home to a Greek minority community. His lawyers say if he is not sworn in as the new mayor by mid-September, he loses his mandate, and a new vote must be held.
In a move likely to stoke the flames between Athens and Tirana, Beleri was refused a change of security measure in court on Monday – something demanded by Greece under the threat of interruption of Albania’s EU accession.
Athens says the issue is political and a move against minority rights, while Tirana said the rule of law must prevail and the court must be allowed to continue its work. Rama has previously said that 48 others, all Albanian citizens like Beleri, are being held on similar charges and that his Greek ethnicity does not mean he should be treated differently.
A protest in Himare, led by Greek mayors and politicians, stoked the fire further with Rama saying in an op-ed that he was surprised to see democratically elected officials from an EU member state protesting against the justice system in a candidate country.
“I cannot hide my deepest sorrow in the face of the surreal intervention of the Greek side in the matter of Albanian justice, the statements in Athens and the whinging in Brussels,” Rama wrote, stressing once again that the process was about possible electoral crimes and had nothing to do with Greek minority rights.
(Alice Taylor | Exit.al)
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