Greece is blocking a letter from the 27 member states to the EU Commission on opening up the first five chapters of the accession process, a source revealed, adding that Athens is pressuring Tirana to show “creativity” to sort out an ongoing bilateral crisis. Tensions between Greece and Albania have simmered since May when the Albanian ethnic Greek mayoral candidate, Fredi Beleri, running under an opposition banner, was arrested two days before the local elections on suspicion of vote buying. He won the elections in Himara in southern Albania by a handful of votes but has been unable to be sworn in as mayor due to his incarceration and despite appeals to be allowed to take the oath or be downgraded to another security measure. Athens has repeatedly called on Albania to allow him to take the oath, calling it politically and ethnically motivated. The Albanian government has said it cannot interfere in judicial proceedings, and the justice system must take its course. Over last weekend, rumours swirled that Athens had refused to back a letter asking the Commission to open the first five chapters of negotiations. An EU Council source close to the matter confirmed that this is true.
According to the source, Athens emphasises several issues regarding the rule of law, such as the case of Beleri and the implementation of some laws related to Albania’s Greek minority, such as property rights. The same source pointed out that there is also an issue in the census currently being carried out, as there were reported cases where members of the Greek minority were not asked about religion or language. Albania is doing its first census in nearly 12 years by tablet. The process is always controversial, with various groups claiming they are not asked about religion or language. “Athens is not closing the door [to the EU accession], but there are some issues that need to be settled. With the way things have been for three weeks now, the process cannot proceed.” The source emphasised that the Albanian side must show “creativity” to solve the crisis concerning Beleri.