What has changed in Greek-Albanian relations in the decade 2009-2019

Davis Tsaka

DAVIS TSAKA is an international expert specializing in Greek-Albanian relations, holds a MA in International Law and Diploma Studies.

It is really interesting to observe the climate change between Greece and Albania since 2009 and the euphoria in the relations between the two countries to this day and the escalation of tension between them. Ten years on, the positive momentum that appeared to be developing between the two countries at the end of the last decade seems to have disappeared, and their relationship is deteriorating as we head towards the end of the current decade. [1]

 A woman sells flowers next to symbolic road signs showing the states of Europe under the “no visa” sign in Tirana on November 7, 2010. REUTERS / Arben Celi

But let us remember, first of all, what happened in 2009 to be a milestone in Greek-Albanian relations. During 2004-2009, the Greek government had set the goal of delimiting maritime zones with Albania, forming part of a more comprehensive foreign policy plan. Despite any difficulties in the negotiations between the two parties, they were finally completed in 2009. On April 27th, the Greek Prime Minister paid an official visit to Albania, accompanied by the Foreign Minister, who signed perhaps the most important agreement between the two so far. since 1996: Agreement establishing sea zones and continental shelf between Greece and Albania. This agreement was of paramount importance for one particular reason. On this basis, Greece indirectly acknowledged the demarcation of the border at the Greek-Albanian border, as the border line at the maritime border began precisely at the point where the border line of Albania’s land border was completed. On April 27, the foreign ministers of the two countries, Dora Bakoyannis and Lulzim Basha, signed the agreement in Tirana. The timing of this visit could not be described as accidental, as Albania formally submitted its application for EU membership the next day. It was therefore the best message as Greece’s “statement of support” to the Albanian application.

In the period 2000-2010, Greek foreign policy was particularly extroverted in bilateral relations with Albania. It has promoted the achievement of its national goals through Albania’s bid to join Western European institutions. Their involvement in them also meant a greater commitment to adherence to and implementation of the arrangements.

The beginning of the last decade has found the relations between the two countries to be severely tested. The annulment [1] of the 2009 treaty signed by the Albanian Constitutional Court and the killing of a Greek minority in Himara hampered relations between the two states, with Greece deciding to downgrade its diplomatic relations with Albania to the rank of Secretary General. . This decision was mainly taken in response to Albania’s withdrawal from the agreement signed last year. The climate was further aggravated by the controversial Greek census conducted in Albania in 2011, considering that the actual numbers of the Greek national minority and Christian Orthodox in the country were not attributed.

In the following years, the relations between the two countries were re-energized. The catalyst was the construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, which would transport gas from the Caspian region to Europe. In September 2012, Greece, Albania and Italy signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the construction of the pipeline. The importance of the project is indisputable for both countries, but the pipeline cannot act as a lever to settle Greek-Albanian relations and resolve all outstanding issues between the two countries.

In the summer of 2013, Edi Rama was elected Prime Minister of Albania. In Greece, it was believed that the election of Rama would lead to a shift in Albanian foreign policy. Rama’s visits to Greece, both before the Albanian elections and a few months later, contributed to this conviction, having a private meeting with his Greek counterpart, as well as Edi Rama’s own statements where he characteristically stated: “Today, Albania backs its foreign policy at the start: Zero problems with neighbors, and my government will rely on that very principle “and that” Our government considers Greece a friendly country and a strategic partner, where a large number of people live and work. Albanians who left after ’90. The same year, during a visit by Greek President Karolos Papoulias, his Albanian counterpart, Bujar Nisani, raised the issue of lifting the war between the two countries. The Greek president expressed Greek support for Albania’s European perspective, after which he met with both Edi Rama and Albanian Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta, who said jointly that a new era of co-operation had begun for the two countries. , while stressing the importance of the Greek minority in Albania.

Rama’s relative readiness to push Greek-Albanian relations positively had begun to be disputed early. As the ambassador says, Alexander Mallias, Albania’s policy is not dependent on political or party identities but on continuity. Declarations of new capital in Greek-Albanian relations did nothing more than reflect Greek delusions. In June 2014, Albania appeared to turn a page in its history as it was granted candidate status for EU membership. The then Foreign Minister, N. Kotzias, considered it inconceivable that Greece would consent to Albania’s EU membership without receiving any compensation. In fact, it was also calling on previous governments for Albania’s unconditional entry into NATO. “A country’s foreign policy cannot be charity,” he wrote.

In 2015, Albania exacerbated its relations with Greece, in particular through statements that came as a result of a pervasive feeling in Albania that Greece lost much of its power because of the economic crisis that plagued it. Edi Rama is the main speaker of this view, who, believing that he is leading a regional power, often referred to his Greek counterparts for the “crisis” experienced by the Greek economy. The tangible effects of this climate on Albanian political leadership are also reflected in the verbal commendation of the Albanian Foreign Ministry to the Greek ambassador to Tirana, where Albanian nudity was transferred to Greece to modify its research program in the Ionian Sea as it “violated” Albanian .

The theoretically good climate prevailing in Greek-Albanian relations after Rama’s rise to power did not translate into a change in the two countries’ positions on certain issues. Following on from previous years, the two countries seemed to have different perceptions of differences or even more about what they are.

In September 2015, on the sidelines of the EU Summit on the Western Balkans, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with his Albanian counterpart, Edi Rama. The climate of the two leaders’ meeting seemed to be positive, with Rama inviting Tsipras to visit Albania. The two countries discussed bilateral issues with Al. Tsipras expressed Greece’s support for Albania’s full EU membership, but urged respect for and protection of the Greek minority in Albania.

Since 2016, the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy and the Assistant Professor of the University of Macedonia I. Armakolas have been advocating for an agreement that will contain as many of the open issues of the two countries as possible, irrespective of their importance This would be more easily accepted by both sides. The Greek Foreign Minister also went on to propose to Albania a package agreement to resolve all bilateral issues of the countries. The EEZ demarcation between Greece and Albania, the settlement of property issues on both sides, the bones collection of about 11,000 Greek soldiers killed during the Greek-Italian War and still buried in many different locations, as well as Respect for the rights of the Greek minority seemed to be the main issues to be resolved. The main Greek wish was for all issues to be resolved before Albania’s accession negotiations with the EU began so as not to risk remaining pending issues when and if Albania joins the Union.

In the fall of 2016, in the context of the Himara e Re Albanian rebuilding plan, 19 house demolitions were planned and carried out by families belonging to the Greek ethnic minority. In a call by the Greek Foreign Ministry to stop demolition, the Albanian prime minister responded that all buildings in Himara are subject to the same laws, regardless of the nature of each building. Rama’s re-election in 2017 kept Dimitir Busati in the Albanian Foreign Ministry and the momentum that seemed to develop in his relations with Nikos Kotzias. The two countries ‘renewed efforts to resolve their bilateral issues were reflected in the regular foreign ministers’ talks in Tirana, Crete and Korça in 2017, and again in Tirana in March 2018.

While the positive momentum that has been developing over the last three years between the two countries, in particular through the joint initiatives of the Foreign Ministers, has given rise to an atmosphere of optimism about the conclusion of the Agreement, two unrelated events have come to a halt to this momentum. The resignation of Greek Foreign Minister N. Kotzias acted as a deterrent to developments in the two countries’ discussions. Also, the fact that Albanian police fatally injure a Greek expatriate on the Greek national holiday of October 28th in Albania’s Vouliarats has created tension and made relations between the two countries difficult. It is interesting to note that on 27 October, the Greek Deputy Foreign Minister stated characteristic of the agreement with Albania that “Negotiation has indeed progressed significantly, but there are still aspects that require further work …”. [2]

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias (left) shakes hands with his Albanian counterpart, Dmitir Busati, at the 3rd Ministerial Meeting of Greece, Albania, Bulgaria and Macedonia, in Thessaloniki, on May 4, 2018. governments of their countries. In early December 2018, it leaked that the new Himalayan housing project, which was prepared in 2015, would not lead to any house demolition, respecting court rulings. Trying to overtake this reptile, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama signed a ministerial decision under which 46 plots of land, 41 of which in the coastal area of ​​Himara, will go to the Albanian Ministry of Tourism for tourist use. Among them are plots of land belonging to Greek minorities living in Himara. The Greek Foreign Ministry’s response was immediate, issuing a statement referring to “a decision contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights but also to Albanian judicial decisions”, calling on the Albanian government to revoke that decision.

Subverting this plan, however, President Ilir Meta, by his decree, deemed the government-proposed land tax bill unconstitutional, with the Albanian Parliamentary Committee on Law agreeing, and the Albanian Parliament now having to make changes to it. to obtain the President’s approval. The latest developments have led the new Greek Foreign Minister, G. Katrougalos, to say in January 2019 that “… From then on, for reasons that are mainly related to the domestic political scene of the neighboring country, in my estimation we had a climate cooling, which I think is completely reversible. It is our effort to bring the level of discussion to a level where it was, and to move towards a definitive resolution of the issues. ”

Today, and while the foreign ministries of the two countries are no longer the main actors in the last years’ negotiations, Dmitry Bousati and Nikos Kotzias, the conclusion of the Agreement seems to have frozen. Even more interesting was the statement by N. Kotzias that the deal is ready by summer 2018 but has not gone ahead as Albania has not set up a constitutional court in Albania (it is the same court that ruled the 2009 Greek-Albanian agreement unconstitutional). G. Katrougalos noted with optimism: “I hope that we will have as much progress in our relations with Albania as with FYROM, with the self-evident condition of reviewing any measures affecting the rights of our minority there.” Eddie Rama, in his official Twitter account, called A. Tsipras a “friend” and congratulated him on developments in the Prespa Agreement, communicating a climate of unity.

In Albania, Mr Rama may typically be the foreign minister, but the foreign policy of the country is managed by 28-year-old Kosovar Gent Cakaj, whom Albanian President Meta deemed inappropriate for the post, forcing the prime minister to declare how he can the Foreign Ministry itself holds, but de facto Minister will be Mr Cakaj. The latter even met with G. Katrougalos on the sidelines of the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Bucharest, having a first acquaintance.

In conclusion, ten years after the signing of the Agreement on the designation of maritime zones and the continental shelf, the climate in the two countries’ relations is not the most ideal. According to N. Kotzias, after months of completion of the so-called Agreement as a Package already in 2018, its non-promotion for signature and subsequent ratification to enter into force seems to drive this agreement. in history.

In addition, the “removal” of foreign ministers who acted as catalysts in the negotiations, the death of the homogeneous in the Bouliarats, and the Albanian decisions to expropriate land in Himara where Greeks live in a minority of “provincial” provinces. agreement.

In this context, the situation within the two countries does not give much hope for bringing this issue back to the top of the two countries’ agenda. On the one hand, the great political and social crisis of recent months in Albania, and on the other, the great political capital needed to ratify the Prespa Agreement in Greece and the fact that 2019 is an election year in both Greece and Albania. (municipal elections) are likely to cause the governments of the two countries to turn their attention elsewhere. Ten years later, the “climate” in Greek-Albanian relations is completely different.


* This article has been published in Issue 57 (April – May 2019) of Foreign Affairs The Hellenic Edition.

[1] Former Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis even criticized the new government during the term of the agreement. Her main argument was the failure to submit the agreement to the Greek Parliament for ratification. He quoted: “What I do know, however, is that while Mr Rama announced his intentions in mid-October, there was no point in showing the Greek government to bring the Agreement to ratification in Parliament, which opened a few days later to create a positive momentum for preserving it, as well as preserving the high level at which we have achieved Greek-Albanian relations. “