Athens has declined to approve a joint letter from the 27 European Union member states on the opening of negotiations on the first package of EU accession chapters, according to reports in the Greek press.
Greece’s objections centre around the ongoing case concerning elected Fredi Beleri, an ethnic Greek Albanian elected as mayor of the city of Himara, despite being arrested ahead of the May 14 local elections after being accused of buying votes. The detention of the ethnic Greek mayor has sparked strong criticism from Athens and soured relations between Greece and Albania.
The news that Greece has declined to sign the letter, as reported by eKathimerini, comes just days after the European Commission published the latest package of enlargement progress reports.
The report on Albania said opening of the first negotiation cluster with the country is also expected by the end of the year. The Commission was positive on Albania’s determination to implement EU reforms, while warning that further efforts are needed in areas such as freedom of expression, minority issues and property rights.
Athens has consistently appealed for Beleri to be granted the opportunity to take the oath as the mayor of Himara. However, Albanian politicians including Prime Minister Edi Rama insist justice must take its course through the court system. The next session of the corruption court is scheduled for November 22, but a hearing may be arranged before then for the special dispensation Beleri is seeking to assume office.
Meanwhile, Greek officials have warned for months that Albania risks jeopardising its EU accession progress if Beleri is not released.
Greece has previous form on using its position as an EU member in its relations with its neighbours. The country formerly known as Macedonia had its attempts to start EU accession negotiations repeatedly vetoed by Athens, which objected to the use of the name “Macedonia”, which is also the name of a Greek province. The issue was eventually resolved when the government in Skopje changed the country’s name to “North Macedonia” in 2019 following the signing of the Prespa Accord in June 2018.
Prior to Beleri’s arrest Albania and Greece enjoyed relatively good relations thanks to their historic and cultural links, and shared membership of Nato and other international institutions. While thwarting Skopje’s ambitions, Greece has long advocated Albania's EU candidacy, and Albania eventually secured candidate status during Greece’s presidency of the EU Council in 2014.