Albania, Greece Must Reflect on Past Mistakes to Settle Maritime Borders Issue

7/10/20 | 0 | 0 | 88 εμφανίσεις

October 6, 202011:17

Ionian sea, southern Albania. Photo: EPA/ARMANDO BABANI
The failed 2009 deal should serve as a cautionary tale as the Albanian and Greek governments seek to discuss their respective claims in the Ionian Sea.

In the past few months, Greece has reached separate maritime agreements with both Egypt and Italy.

Amid a flare-up of tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean between Greece and Turkey, the two accords helped Greece to make its case to the international community and gain its support.

Its plan to extend its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea could be seen as part of a strategic effort to highlight the need for a deal with Albania as well.

Nevertheless, the issue is more sensitive and complex in Albania’s case due to its geographical location, the two states’ respective coastlines, and the failure of previous efforts to reach an agreement. Therefore, both sides need to show maturity and good faith.

In 2009 the two governments signed a maritime deal that caused much controversy and poisoned relations between the two countries for years.

One problem was that Albania’s Constitutional Court ruled in 2010 that the agreement infringed both international practice and the Constitution of Albania and so annulled the agreement.

The 2009 accord did not respect established precedents and circumvented some basic principles of international maritime law.

Not only was the agreement found in Albania to be one-sided and resulted in a non-equitable solution, it also went beyond its stated goal of delimitating the continental shelf and exclusive economic zones.

Following the Albanian Constitutional Court ruling, Greece refused to acknowledge it and insisted on implementation of the deal. This created unnecessary tensions and threatened relations between the two countries that are critical to overall stability in the Balkans.

The failure to reach a fair agreement should serve as cautionary tale as the two countries seek to restart negotiations. Not only the end-result, but also the context and pressure exercised before during the negotiating process jeopardized bilateral relations and fueled nationalism on both sides of the border.

Greece has a long-established tradition in maritime negotiations, while Albania lacked such experience. Leveraging this weakness, Greece put pressure on the government of Albania to reach a quick agreement, aiming to create a precedent that it could use later to delimitate other maritime borders.

At the time, Albania was in the final phase of completing its NATO accession, and was also seeking to apply for EU membership. The context of these processes fed a perception that Albania felt compelled to accept Greece’s requests to avoid any delays.

As expectations grow that renewed talks between Albania and Greece will start soon – the Greek Foreign Minister, Nikos Dendias, has announced he will visit Tirana – the parties must learn from past mistakes and pave the way for more constructive engagement.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias. Photo: EPA-EFE/MILAN KAMMERMAYER

The infamous 2009 agreement shows that a fair and just solution must be based in international law and standards. The categorical rejection of those principles in the 2009 agreement means that that accord cannot serve as a basis for new negotiations.

The Greek government and its negotiating team in 2009 squeezed an incapable Albanian counterpart to make concessions that did not conform UNCLOS.

Not only was the agreement fundamentally flawed but, in hindsight, its strategic impact was also misguided. As Greece now accuses Turkey of breaching international law and precedents in the Eastern Mediterranean, it needs to be invested more than anyone else in respecting established precedents and rejecting practices that bypass international standards.

In Tirana, there is concern that Greece might again pressure the Albanian government, similar to what happened in 2009.

Albania is due to hold parliamentary elections in 2021 and the government is invested in holding its first intergovernmental conference with the EU. With Greece able to play an important role in that regard, there are many concerns that Albania could again be put in a vulnerable position.

However, Albania is not today like it was in in 2009. Within the country there is much more awareness on this issue due to the previous debacle. The repetition of a process that is based on the asymmetrical positions of the two sides, rather than on the principles of trust and international law, would have a long-lasting negative impact in the relationship between Albania and Greece.

That is why it is critical that Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his government make it clear that they expect negotiations with Albania to respect their due timetables. While Greece has always insisted that it has supported Albania’s integration in European and transatlantic institutions, it should unequivocally state that the maritime issue is detached from Albania’s EU path. In fact, any effort to correlate them – or with any other issue, for that matter – would simply add fuel to the fire and open the door for unwelcome outside interference.

Besides direct negotiations, some other options have been thrown around, including taking the issue to an international court or engaging a third party to facilitate. However, alternatives to direct negotiations are a negation of the capability of both countries to solve technical issues in a bilateral fashion and should therefore be rejected.

Both parties must show the necessary maturity to address the issue bilaterally through open and constructive negotiations. Inevitably, this goes through respect for international precedents and law.

Akri Çipa is a foreign policy expert and consultant in Tirana, Albania. He holds a Master of Science in Conflict Resolution from Columbia University in New York. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

Balkan Insight

Category: International

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