Top EU and Western Balkan leaders will have an informal dinner on Monday in Athens following an invitation from the Greek Prime Minister, but Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was not invited amid a growing conflict between Athens and Tirana.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will receive European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, EU Council head Charles Michel as well as the leaders of Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia.
According to the Greek press, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will also be present, although this has not been officially announced.
Diplomatic sources cited by Greek media suggest that Athens wants to reestablish its leadership in the region as a pillar of stability, peace and energy security.
The same sources stressed the need to accelerate the path towards the EU in the region, especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Rama is not invited
However, Rama was not invited amid growing tensions following 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 require him to get involved in politics or make big decisions.
Greek media reported that by not inviting Rama, Mitsotakis wanted to send a clear message that Athens was annoyed by the course of events that had occurred.
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. Police said he was going to be charged with active corruption in the elections, which Beleri denies.
Beleri has since been detained. Although he won the election, he was not 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 future in the EU over human rights violations, with Greeks believing Beleri’s arrest was politically motivated.
In a video message during a protest last week in Albania, European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas called Beleri’s detention “profoundly anti-European” and stressed that Beleri should assume his duties as mayor, stressing that “no other option can be accepted by the EU”.
On the other hand, Tirana accuses Athens of intervening in the Albanian justice system, trying to prevent an independent investigation. Rama also condemned the organization of a demonstration against the Albanian government and the national judicial system on Albanian soil, but organized and attended by Greek elected officials, including the mayors of Athens and Thessaloniki.
The incident comes just months after Mitsotakis canceled a trip to Himare the day before the EU-Western Balkans summit in Tirana after Rama told EURACTIV in an interview, Greece cheated on its EU accession process.
The comments went viral across Greece and the Albanian prime minister addressed the issue during a bilateral meeting in Tirana with Mitsotakis.
Meanwhile, Greece’s main opposition party Syriza (European Left) issued a statement calling on Mitsotakis to propose concrete measures for the European future of the Western Balkans 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 Western Balkan countries) in less than ten years, and on the other hand , it refuses to ratify even three technical agreements with the neighboring country (within the framework of the Prespa agreement), Syriza said in its press release.
(Sarantis Michalopoulos, Alice Taylor | EURACTIV.com)