Prime Minister Edi Rama met with Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis under the 4th EU-Arab World Summit held in Athens, where they agreed to discuss a number of open-ended topics between the two countries, such as the Greek minority’s rights and the Maritime Border Agreement.
Rama’s press office announced concerning the meeting that it took place under a positive spirit, with Rama saying that despite the European Council’s decision to deny Albania the opening of accession negotiations, Albania will continue to implement its reforms with the same decidability.
He added that it is important for both countries to discuss open-ended matters and to strengthen cooperation between the two countries.
Mitsotakis was reported saying Greece supports the European perspective of all Western Balkan countries as long as they fulfill their EU obligations and do their homework, and said he appreciates the Albanian side’s commitment to work on property self-declaration, which is one of the Greek minority’s issues in Albania.
The meeting between the two took place in Mitsotakis’ headquarters in Athens, while Rama himself shared with his followers on Facebook a video from the meeting between the two.
In the video, Rama is seen being welcomed by his counterpart in front of his office, while being accompanied by Minister for Energy and Infrastructure Belinda Balluku.
Greek minority issues
Recognizing the Greek minority’s rights, especially concerning property issues, is one of the defining aspects of the Greek vote regarding Albania’s opening of EU accession negotiations.
According to Greek and Albanian news sources, this was also the main topic of discussion between Rama and Mitsotakis.
During an official visit in Thessaloniki a few days prior to their meetings, Mitsotakis said that both Albania and North Macedonia will be under observation regarding the fulfillment of the conditions the EU has placed.
“By not wanting to risk even the slightest destabilization in the region, we will attentively observe how our neighbors respond to their obligations,” Mitsotakis said, adding that Athens remains in favor of granting both states the green light to continue their European path.
“Just like with everyone else, we seek good neighborly relations with Albania as well. We should not forget that Greece has hosted many economic migrants from Albania, providing in this way a helping hand to reviving its economy. The context of our cooperation is very wide. But a condition for the common progress, condition for the eventual opening of Albania’s EU path, is respect towards the Greek minority and its rights,” Mitsotakis said.
The head of the Greek government, for the first time since coming to power, also called to find a common language to define the exclusive economic zones in the Ionian Sea.
“It is a condition not to have calls from people who are not familiar with history, as well as a sincere approach towards defining the exclusive economic zones for both states in the Ioanian sea, a process I would like to remind you has ended since 2009, when Tirana backed down,” Mitsotakis said.
Rama: “We will work with the new Greek gov’t for a Maritime Border Agreement”
Meanwhile, Rama said that talk claiming Greek minority rights’ are not respected in Albania is irrational.
In an interview with the Greek Euronews, Rama said that the Greek minority enjoys the same rights as Albanian citizens.
“These are senseless accusations. Albania makes up for a shining example of respect towards minorities and the greek one, which has been living for a long time in the same conditions as Albanians and faces the same problems as them when it comes down to that,” Rama said, implying the property issues undergone by the Greek minority are similar to those for the Albanians.
In this context, Rama said that Albanian-Greek minority relations, going back in history, are actually excellent example how politics should manage the way neighbors co-exist.
Mitsotakis, however, more concretely refers to two laws related to the minorities’ property protection at the front of the Himara coast and the right for self-declaration that they are part of the Greek minority.
Up until last July, Athens and Tirana were conducting a number of head-to-head meetings through then-foreign-ministers Nikos Kotzias and Ditmir Bushati, in order to reach agreements on a number of open-ended issues between them, accumulated through the years.
Agreements were actually reached on building cemeteries for the Greek soldiers who died in Albania during WWII, the apostille stamps, while the abrogation of the War Law with Albania is still expected by Athens.
Meanwhile, the Greek side removed any possibility that the Cham issue would be on the table for discussion, while retaining the rights to negotiate greek minority issues.
Nonetheless, the issue that was most debated by political actors from all sides of the spectrums, experts and public opinion alike was a new maritime border deal between the countries and the lack of transparency that accompanied the negotiations between Bushati and Kotzias.
The negotiations to reach a new maritime border agreement that would finally divide the naval space shared by the countries were promoted publicly by both then-Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Rama, despite the lack of information on the negotiators and the non-functionality of Albania’s Constitutional Court under the ongoing justice reform process.
During this meeting, Rama expressed willingness to resume talks to reach a Maritime Border Agreement with Greece.
Rama and Italian counterpart meet in Tirana and Rome within two weeks
On Thursday, after meeting Mitsotakis, Rama travelled to Rome to meet Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who only recently was in Tirana and spoke positively about the country’s EU integration.
Under focus of this meeting was the strengthening of relations between the two countries, and the possibility to raise investments in particular.
Conte said after their meeting during a press conference with Rama that Italy will suggest during the European Council’s next meeting to reassess its decision to deny Albania’s opening of accession negotiations.
Further on, he said that they will work on initiatives in various businesses. He made an appeal to the Albanian opposition to engage in dialogue with the government to resolve the crisis.
“The opposition and the government should sit together and resolve the crisis. Both states, Albania and Italy, will work on business initiatives,” Conte was reported saying.
For his part, Rama reiterated that Albania has no other way but to integrate fully into the European Union.
“I would like to welcome Italy’s stance on the negotiations. Unfortunately, the European Council failed to make the right decision for Albania, delivering a message of weakness. We will continue the same path, we will continue with the people. We believe we have many strong partners. There are many Albanians who contribute and pay Italian taxes. 115 thousand Albanians study in Italian schools and 10 thousand students attend studies with very good results. As a university professor, the Italian prime minister has recognized the merits of Albanians here. This is a kind of appreciation for the integration that Albanians have been able to achieve in Italy,” Rama said.
Rama thanked Italy for the valuable assistance provided to the Albanian people. He stated that he has received support to fight not only organized crime but also to develop business relationships.
“We have managed to converse and give priority to Italian firms operating in our country. We discussed the Arberesh living in Italy. It is an added cultural value of the Italian state for the variety of cultural values that Italy presents, in terms of the voice of Italy, which has an indisputable value even in the international arena regarding its support to Albania,” Rama declared.