The agreement between Greece and Albania to refer a dispute over maritime borders in the Ionian Sea to the International Court of Justice in The Hague marks a positive development in bilateral ties – the most important, in my opinion, after the signing of the friendship treaty (by former Greek president Kostis Stefanopoulos) in Tirana in 1996.
The 2009 agreement for the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between the two countries is in any case a dead letter since its rejection by Albania’s Constitutional Court.
However, from the moment both sides wanted to settle the issue, each for their own reasons, they needed to find a commonly acceptable solution; and this is how they agreed to take recourse to Τhe Hague.
The agreement will enable Greece to show itself as a country that is willing and capable of settling outstanding disputes with its neighbors on the basis of international law. Meanwhile, Albania will score points as it waits for a date to start European Union membership negotiations.
Only time will tell if Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama first received the “blessing” of Turkish President and friend Recep Tayyip Erdogan before agreeing to this course of action, or if he acted with Albania’s best interest and its European prospects in mind.
Ultimately, however, the path to The Hague will be long and not without obstacles, while the court’s binding verdict is likely to differ from the political aspirations and objectives of both sides. There will be some grumbling (in fact it has already started), but when you enter a negotiation, you can never expect to win or lose everything.
Lawyers, international relations experts, diplomats and Law of the Sea experts will be called in to defend the positions of their respective countries in order to maximize their benefits.
There is another equally important aspect to the EEZ agreement: the approach on such a crucial issue could and should “unlock” Greek-Albanian relations, creating a favorable climate for the settlement of other issues that remain stalled.
Now is perhaps the right time for Tirana and Athens to press the restart button in the interest of both peoples. The opportunity must not go to waste.