Will Edi Rama Trick the Greek Government Over EU-Albania Accession Talks?
Edi Rama must respect Greece and the basic principles of democracy and human rights for all.
The European Commission recommended on May 29 to start accession negotiations in the European Union with regards to Albania. However, due to a serious and critical political crisis in Albania and highly disputed recent elections, on June 18 the Council of the European Union announced it would postpone the decision until October 2019.
On October 18, the Council will give a final decision on the opening of accession talks with Albania and Northern Macedonia. The latter is expected to get the green light potentially leaving Albania behind with either a decision that refuses the opening of the negotiations or a pending status will a long list of conditions to be fulfilled by the Albanian government.
The German Bundestag is expected to vote on September 26 on whether to open or not the accession talks with Albania. In the meantime, a document, which will formulate the German position in the EU Council, is being finalized and will be put to vote at the request of two German majority parliamentary groups, the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party.
North Macedonia will start negotiations as early as January, while Albania will only start accession talks once a long list of conditions is met – just last week Germany announced the nine conditions Albania must meet before beginning talks. These conditions include the functioning of justice institutions, such as the Constitutional Court which has been nonexistent for almost two years; adaptation and implementation of the Electoral Reform which might require early elections; a final clarification by the Constitutional Court on the legality of the June 30, 2019 local elections which were held without opponents and in an entirely Communist-style, as well as other important requirements which deal with the fight against corruption, organized crime, administration reform, and more.
Germany, France, Holland and a few other EU countries are very skeptical of opening the accession talks with Albania due to a lack of progress made in recent years by the Edi Rama government, especially with multiple allegations of corruption at high levels of his government that involve drug smuggling and organized crime.
But bad news for Albania might come also from Greece, which has constantly reminded the Albanian government of its commitments to the Copenhagen Criteria (the set of rules which define eligibility for EU membership), respect for human rights and minority rights. The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in Thessaloniki, in the presence of all domestic and foreign media warned that Greece will block the start of Tirana-EU negotiations if the Albanian government does not respect the minority rights of Greeks in Albania.
“I am completely clear on this issue, I have transmitted it to both President Macron, the Dutch Prime Minister Route, and Chancellor Merkel after talks are expected at the European Council in October. We’re not there yet. We will have to see a change in the attitude of the Albanian government towards the Greek national minority,” Mitsotakis said.
“We are not there yet” was also the message relayed by the Foreign Minister of Greece, Nikos Dendias, who stated that “in the context of the opening of Albania’s integration negotiations (for which the EU has made clear conditionality), we will continue to closely monitor Albania’s fulfillment of the 5 key priorities. We will continue to closely monitor and respect human rights through our actions.”
Albanian Investment Corporation – A Corrupt Land Grab
Albania has struggled to fulfill the Copenhagen Criteria and meet requirements for democratic institutions and free and fair elections – most recently violated in an absurd and dictatorship style election on June 30, 2019. The elections were held with only one party contending, counted by only one party and unsurprisingly won by only one party and also boycotted by 85% of Albanian voters. Additionally, human rights and the rights of the Greek minority in Albania present a real problem for Greece which recently has been very concerned with a new dubious initiative from Edi Rama’s government called the Albanian Investment Corporation.
This new institution will consolidate under its control all public land and further assets, and use them as a tool “to spur private investment.” This institution represents the channeling of any public and private property of Albanian citizens into the hands of the Prime Minister. This means the land owned by the minority citizens in Himara, Vlora and Saranda can be taken from them and given to a few oligarchs positioned very close to Albanian Prime Minsister Rama.
The abduction of the land of the ordinary citizens and transferring the ownership to a few investors violates not only the human rights of all Albanian landowners but also the rights of the Greek minority. Furthermore, this initiative is taken purely for money laundering purposes. With the Albanian Investment Corporation, Edi Rama will become the largest de facto oligarch in Albania and the great partner of all other oligarchs.
The Albanian Investment Corporation was denounced by former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who declared on national TV that aggravation of the relations between Albania and Greece over the minorities is related to a mega-scandal on all the land ownerships in Albania, especially those with great value in the seaside.
“This is the big and final strike of Edi Rama,” stated Berisha, “to rob what is left of the properties of the citizens in favor of his already known oligarchs.”
“This law will give absolute ownership to its architect, who in fact is the Prime Minister Rama.” said Jorida Tabaku, a former MP. “He will be the man who will handle any public and/or private property in the country giving super power to the oligarchs. It is in violation of the constitution and property law, in violation of the organic law of local government and at least 3 other laws regulating public assets and property relations.”
Despite all international institutions including the IMF, the World Bank, the Council of Europe and the US State Department criticizing the Albanian government for the Investment Corporation law, Edi Rama still has decided to proceed with the plan and violate the rights of many Albanians, minority citizens. The issue raises many concerns for the Greek government which frequently has stated that “Greece’s and EU’s views on the rights of the Greek minority in Albania have been repeatedly and clearly expressed at all levels.”
Due to pressure from the highest of the Greek authorities over the protection of minority rights, the Albanian government in the Spring of 2019 removed from the website of the Official Gazette the decision to arbitrarily expropriate properties belonging to members of the Greek minority in Himara. But Greece is still closely monitoring the next steps of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, as taking down the decision, did not mean that it also has been withdrawn from his plans. This maneuver by Edi Rama was made to trick the Greeks and in order to obtain a green light for the accession talks on June 18 – as afterward Rama could always return to his plans of sharing a big part of the Albanian territory, in fact, the most beautiful part of the country’s landscape, with his oligarchs.
But the delay of the EU decision to October 18, and the discussion of the land ownership at the UN Assembly planned for October with the initiative of the German government forced the Albanian Premier to play another trick. On September 16, 2019, he esthetically amended the law to imply that he would reflect on the concerns raised by the Greek government. However, Prime Minister Rama could just as likely move forward undisturbed by the laws on the alienation of immovable property of the Greek ethnic minority, monasteries and parishes in the coastal region of Himara – Saranda. The game Edi Rama is playing is that, although the government changed its article on public procurement, it still overshadowed the way it operates. Thus properties, including those of the minorities on the coast or other areas of the country, may be swallowed up by the Investment Corporate allegedly for the public interest, but in reality giving it to “strategic investors” who are Rama’s oligarchs. This trick against the Greek authorities and violation of minorities is a mockery from the Albanian Premier.
Edi Rama has shown no interest in the fact that each law that is approved by Parliament cannot violate the rights of the citizens, rights which have been consolidated throughout the last 30 years. This is the reason why the President of Albania Ilir Meta returned to reassess many laws on the land seizure as being unconstitutional and a violation of human rights.
On September 19, 2019, a Venice Commission delegation visited the Albania capital of Tirana over this much-disputed issue of property rights and land ownership. After meeting with the delegation, the former MP Oerd Bylykbashi stated for the media that “Edi Rama, through the Investment Corporation is taking the properties of the landowners and transferring them to the oligarchs. This is an evil mechanism. A mechanism that expropriates the landowners.”
Also present at the meeting, Albanian MP Jorida Tabaku added, “During the last six years there has been a worsening and frequent violations of human rights, which are not just a priority by the EU, but also of the right of ownership, a human right which has been violated by Edi Rama, issuing illegal and unconstitutional laws and establishing unprecedented norms for the other countries in the region.”
Rama Makes His Moves at the UN
On Monday, Edi Rama met the Greek Premier Mitsotatks at a UN event in the US under heavy criticism at home over the deep political and institutional crisis caused by his Communist-style elections of June 30 and the many corruption allegations against him and his ministers. Just recently, the Court of Serious Crimes sentenced Rama’s former Minister of Interior, Sajmir Tahiri, to five years in prison for involvement in corruption and drug trafficking. Adding in Albania’s poor economy and a lack of hope which has forced the youth to flee the country, a positive signal regarding EU accession talks would be the only salvation for Rama who, according to the standards of his governance, should have left the premiership long ago.
Aware that his big brother Erdogan cannot assist him on such an important matter, Rama will continue to use all his tricks to convince the Greek Premier that his plans to expropriate properties belonging to members of the Greek minority is a matter of the past – but as soon as October 18 comes, the very next day his deal with his favorite oligarchs will likely proceed as planned and Albanian citizens and the Greek minorities will be robbed of their properties.
Will the Greek government buy his lies? Can a Prime Minister like Rama be trusted? Can a leader who doesn’t seem to care for his own people and their fundamental human rights or their European future, also care for the rights of the Greek minority and respect the concerns of his Greek counterpart?
Can Edi Rama be trusted when only a few weeks ago he displayed non-statesmanship behavior and denied being on holiday in Greece, calling the Greek media that reported his secret trip Trikalan “garbage”?
Edi Rama must respect Greece and not continue his provocations as he has done many times in the past. First of all, he must respect the basic principles of democracy and the human rights of his citizens and those of minorities. Isn’t that the foundation of a united Europe after all?
Edi Rama has always put the blame on EU countries for Albania’s failure to begin EU accession talks, claiming that it is a domestic problem of the EU countries and not of his government…
“You hypocrite,” says the Bible, “first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the grain out of your brother’s eye.”