Regional Cooperation
MORE Report: ΙΙ. The question of maritime borders

© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Greece & Cyprus

Short Background

The lack of maritime zones deal between Greece and Albania has been a longstanding source of tension in recent years. A bilateral agreement on the issue was reached in 2009, but Albania’s Constitutional Court annulled the agreement a year later following a legal challenge by Edi Rama’s socialist party, then in opposition. The 2009 agreement was widely regarded in Greece as a diplomatic triumph. Subsequently, the Court’s 2010 verdict created a climate of distrust, proving a major setback in bilateral relations.

Bilateral talks started up again after a ‘frosty’ period under the new Greek government led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Following a meeting between Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in Tirana on 20 October 2020, it was announced that the two countries would be turning to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to resolve the dispute over their maritime borders in the Ionian Sea. For the dispute to be referred to the ICJ, the two sides need to reach a special agreement (compromise) that will define both the terms of their submission and the procedure followed. To date, neither government has made public the progress made in the relevant talks.

The issue of the exclusive economic zone is one of the most important topics in Greek-Albanian bilateral relations from the Albanian perspective. In this context, the latest developments and the official discussion between the two counterparts acquired extending reporting and analysis on Albanian media. Some of the examples that you can find in the report, present negative coverage, hostile use of language, and even the spread of fake news.

Media Coverage

In Greece, the issue has not been a matter of media or public discourse, since it has never elicited reactions from the Opposition. Few articles have sought to explain what the settlement of this outstanding issue could bring to both countries. Generally speaking, the media have presented the 2020 agreement with Albania in the way the Greek government wishes it to be presented: that is, as an example of solving problems with neighbors on the basis of International Law. Moreover, details and information about the talks have not been published over the years, which leads to a climate of suspicion and misunderstanding the public opinion.

In both cases, internal politics and political disputes shaped and affected the way that the agreement has been presented to the public. Furthermore, the researchers pinpoint the crucial factor that the Media does not provide analysis, or explanatory text by experts and academics, having as a consequence to increase the lack of knowledge on the topic and the analytical understanding for the public to evaluate the political decisions.

In the MORE Report you can find alternative suggestions of the researchers for the coverage of respective issues by the media and journalists here.

Key Takeaways

  • Albania and Greece have initiated a process that will remove a key issue from the list of their bilateral problems. The international judicial procedure is the most suitable and legitimate process, given also the partisan and emotional way this question manifests itself in the two societies.
  • The highly technical and complex nature of the problem is being exploited by some media and analysts to sow discord and weaken trust between the two sides.
  • The Albanian media in particular often publish half-truths and unsubstantiated analyses and claims about Greece’s supposed “real intentions”, cultivating a narrative of the Greeks working to trick Albania into accepting a deal that is damaging to its national interests.
  • The two governments need to be more proactive in explaining the process and its benefits and educating the public about both.
  • Media need to be more cautious and understand what is at stake for both countries and the entire region if it loses its pro-Western geopolitical orientation.
  • Governments, experts, and media must work together to improve the public discourse and, build and consolidate an atmosphere of bilateral trust.

This executive summary of "The question of maritime borders" is part of the 1st Media Observatory Report (MORE). MORE is part of ALGREE project and aims to highlight through recent case studies how media, which influence and shape public opinion attitudes, fail to provide accurate information and a good understanding of the improved bilateral relations at the level of official politics and the societal bonds that exist and remain at the context of misconceptions and prejudices.

Read the report here!