On Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said that Greece has toughened its stance towards Albania and is determined to raise obstacles to its EU accession prospects and block access to European financing tools.
"We can't accept any discounts to democratic operation and the rule of law," said the minister.
Varvitsiotis underlined that the region of Himare is excluded from the geographic zones in which Albania recognises the existence of a Greek minority, and that's why Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chose to visit it in December 2022.
Albanians headed to the polls on Sunday to vote in 61 municipalities for mayors and local councillors. But in the city of Himare in the south of the country and home to a Greek minority community, trouble started on Friday.
Fredi Beleri, a Greek expatriate running for mayor under the banner of a Greek minority party aligned with an opposition coalition, was arrested on Friday on suspicion of vote buying.
The police said he was to be charged with active corruption in elections, something Beleri denies. As the Socialist Party swept to victory in most municipalities, with counting still ongoing as of Tuesday, Beleri emerged victorious in the southern municipality of Himare.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who threatened to block Albania’s EU path over the arrest, reacted positively to the development.
“I was especially happy when I was informed that Fredi Beleri succeeded and was elected mayor of Himare with a small margin. And I wish and hope that this adventure will end soon”, he said, emphasising that “Albania’s path to Europe goes through respecting the rights of the Greek national minority”.
Regarding the Greek community in Albania, some 0.9% of the population identify as ethnic Greek. A census, albeit delayed, is scheduled for autumn 2023.
Himare, where he was running and subsequently won the position of mayor, is home to a significant Greek-identifying community.
On Monday, it was announced that Beleri beat his Socialist Party opposition candidate by just 19 votes. As Beleri remains in prison, it is unknown whether he will take the position of mayor or whether another election in the municipality will be held.