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Western Balkans dinner in Athens amid growing Greece-Albania row

EU top chiefs and Western Balkans leaders will have an informal dinner on Monday in Athens following an invitation by the Greek prime minister, but Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was not invited amid a growing row between Athens and Tirana.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will receive EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, EU Council chief Charles Michel as well as the leaders of Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia.

According to Greek press reports, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will also be present, although it has not been announced officially.

Diplomatic sources quoted by Greek media suggested that Athens wants to re-establish its leadership in the region as a pillar of stability, peace and energy security.

The same sources emphasised the need to speed up the region’s EU path, especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Rama not invited

However, Rama was not invited amid growing tensions over the arrest of a Greek minority mayor for alleged vote buying.

Instead, Mitsotakis invited Albanian President Bajram Begaj, whose role is mainly ceremonial and does not involve him getting involved in politics or taking big decisions.

Read more: Athens threatens Albania’s EU path again over elections arrest

Greek media reported that by not inviting Rama, Mitsotakis wanted to send a clear message that Athens was annoyed by the course of the events that had taken place.

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.

Athens now threatens Albania’s EU future over violation of human rights as Greeks believe that the arrest of Beleri was politically motivated.

In a video message during a protest last week in Albania, EU Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas described Beleri’s detention was “deeply anti-European” and stressed that Beleri should assume his duties as mayor, underlining that “no other option can be accepted by the EU”.

On the other hand, Tirana accuses Athens of intervening in Albania’s judiciary, trying to affect an independent investigation. Rama also condemned the organisation of a protest against the Albanian government and the national justice system on Albanian soil, but organised and attended by Greek elected officials, including the mayors of Athens and Thessaloniki.

Also read: Albanian PM shocked over Greek elected officials protesting in Himare

The incident comes just months after Mitsotakis cancelled a trip to Himare the day before an EU-Western Balkan summit in Tirana after Rama told EURACTIV in an interview that Greece cheated on its EU accession process.

The comments went viral across Greece, and the Albanian premier addressed the issue at a bilateral meeting in Tirana with Mitsotakis.

Read more: Albanian PM apologises to Greece for comments to EURACTIV

Meanwhile, the Greek main opposition Syriza party (EU Left) issued a statement calling Mitsotakis to come up with concrete steps for the Western Balkans’ EU future and to finally present a clear position on North Macedonia.

“Mr Mitsotakis is the only European Prime Minister who, on the one hand, calls on the EU to proceed with the integration of North Macedonia (and all the countries of the Western Balkans) in less than ten years, while on the other hand, he refuses to ratify even three technical agreements with the neighbouring country [as part of the Prespa Agreement”, Syriza said in its statement.

Source : Euractiv