Greece Names A Convicted Politician From Albania’s Ethnic Greek Minority As Candidate In Eu Election

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s governing conservative party added a convicted politician from Albania’s ethnic Greek minority to its list of candidates for the upcoming European Parliament election, adding to the already existing tension between the two countries.

Fredi Beleris was elected mayor of the town of Himare in southern Albania last year but was arrested on vote-buying charges and not sworn in. He was then handed a two-year sentence in March.

The politician had denied the charges against him, and Greece’s government called his pre-trial detention unfair, threatening to block Albania's attempt at joining the European Union.

The ruling New Democracy party made the surprise announcement late Monday, allowing Beleris to contest in the election which will take place between June 6-9 across the 27 member states. Greeks are expected to vote on June 9.

“The battle I am fighting is not personal. It is a battle for the rule of law and democracy,” Beleris posted on Facebook Tuesday after a ceremony announcing the candidate list in Athens, held by the conservative party and led by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

“It is a battle for the values espoused by the West and Europe and which must be respected by those who want to join the great European family,” wrote Beleris, who remains imprisoned in Albania.

Six countries in the western Balkan region – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – are at different stages in their applications for EU membership. Croatia was the last EU member country to be accepted in 2013.

Western concerns over regional stability triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine have added urgency to the accession process.

Greece and Albania, a former communist country and a current NATO member, have a historically tense relationship.

Athens has accused Tirana of acting too slowly in restoring rights to more than 100,000 of its ethnic Greek citizens following the fall of communist rule in the early 1990s. Many members of the minority have worked in Greece and have dual citizenship.