Albania’s arrest of Greek mayor reaches European Parliament

Fredi Beleri Heimara

The ongoing controversy between Greece and Albania has reached the European Parliament with the arrest by Albanian authorities of a mayor belonging to the nation’s Greek minorit

The arrest of the Mayor of Himare Fredi Beleri came up at a debate on the evening of January 24, following a Foreign Affairs Committee Parliament meeting, as MEPs discussed Albania’s prospects of it joining the European Union.

“We only want justice to be done,” Suela Janina, the European Union’s Albanian Ambassador, told Brussels Signal. Janina insisted that the Albanian Government wanted a fair trial for Beleri.

“We will look at the facts and we hope that the results of the case are respected both within Albania and outside Albania in Europe.”

Beleri was arrested on charges of allegedly bribing voters in a local election. Many Greek critics claimed the move was an act of discrimination regarding Albania’s ethnic Greek minority.

Albanian opposition members claimed it was part of a wider clampdown by Prime Minister Edi Rama’s Socialist Government on them.

The country has seen intense polarisation between the Conservative Democratic Party in opposition and the governing Socialist Party.

Democratic Party in opposition and the governing Socialist Party.

Divisions have been stoked recently by the arrest of former-prime minister and Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha on alleged corruption charges.

Janina’s comments came after MEPs gave mixed opinions regarding Albania.

Portuguese MEP Isabel Santos, the Parliament’s rapporteur on Albania, said the Balkan nation had “been exemplary in its accession procedure”.

The country had made progress in fighting crime and corruption, and in aligning itself with the EU’s foreign policy, she said.

Santos did allude to recent tensions, not just over Beleri but also relating to Berisha being placed under house arrest.

“[These] incidents … deal a blow to Albania’s accession, we mustn’t be afraid to say it,” Santos said.

Anna-Michelle Assimakopoulou, an MEP for Greece’s governing centre-right New Democracy party, was critical of the Beleri case.

Claiming his hearing had been delayed and that he had been refused to permission to leave prison to speak in his capacity as mayor, Assimakopoulou said the issue was bigger than just a two-country squabble.

“It’s a case of respecting human rights, it’s not some bilateral issue between Albania and Greece,” she said.

“I’m not saying this because I’m a Greek MEP. No, this a European affair, a European issue … which weighs heavily on the process of accession to the European Union for the country.”

In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU is speeding up enlargement as Brussels wishes to shield neighbouring countries from Russian and Chinese influence. Other countries such as Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine seek the EU’s protection from Russia.

Still, the Beleri case could spell trouble for Albania joining the bloc, as Greece says it may veto the country’s EU membership if Albania’s Greek minority are “mistreated”.

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