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Greece Threatens Albania’s EU Accession Over Beleri Case

Greece Albania EU Fredi Beleris
Fredi Beleri among ethnic Greeks of Himare before his arrest in May 2023. Greece is threatening Albania’s EU accession over the Beleri case. Credit Facebook/Fredi Beleri

Greece is threatening to block EU accession talks with Albania over the case of the ethnic Greek politician, Fredi Beleri who remains in prison.

Beleri has been detained since May for alleged vote buying after being elected mayor of the predominantly ethnic Greek city of Himare in Albania.

Beleri, who won by nineteen votes, is accused of buying eight of them, and courts claim he could attempt to tamper with prosecution witnesses. He has pleaded innocent to the charges.

On Monday, Beleri’s request for special permission to be sworn in as mayor was rejected by the Albanian Court of Appeal. Greece has reacted strongly to Beleri’s arrest and imprisonment, accusing Albania of violating the rule of law and Greek minority rights.

Athens claims his detention is politically motivated and has said it “expects Albania to take concrete and immediate measures to allow Beleri to take the mayoral oath and to respect his right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.”

At the Berlin Process Summit that took place in Tirana in October, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis was unequivocal: “I want to emphasize my respect for the independence of the Albanian Judiciary and I have no desire to interfere in the way it operates.”

“However, I want to stress that Fredi Beleri has the right to be sworn in as Mayor of Himare even if he is in custody,” Mitsotakis said.

Greece sets conditions for Albania’s EU talks

Greece has already submitted a written statement that accompanied the European Council’s letter on the opening of negotiations with Albania, setting three basic conditions for promoting Tirana’s accession. These are the swearing-in of Beleri, his fair trial and respect for the presumption of innocence.

In mid-November, Greece refused to back a letter asking the European Commission to open the first five chapters of negotiations for Albania’s EU accession process. The letter was ultimately sent but with Greek reservations.

In response to accusations aimed at Greece for making the issue a bilateral one, State Minister Stavros Papastavrou stressed that Athens’ stance is about defending European principles.

“The Beleri issue is deeply European, [and] it is not bilateral,” Papastavrou said. “It has to do with respect for the rule of law.” Greece wields considerable power in this matter because EU member states must unanimously agree to the opening of accession negotiations with a country. A Greek veto would block Albania’s path to EU accession.

The issue is expected to dominate the EU Summit on December 14th and 15th. Other topics include EU Enlargement and the accession progress of the Western Balkan countries. There remains the possibility of decoupling Albania’s accession from that of North Macedonia’s.

According to the draft conclusions of the Summit, European leaders will reaffirm their full and indisputable commitment to the prospect of the Western Balkans joining the EU and will call for the acceleration of their accession process. Negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina will begin once the criteria are sufficiently met under this plan.

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