Albania turns its foreign policy toward Turkey, as Greek influence in the region wanes.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 24/10/13
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, visited Tirana on October 5th. [AFP]
Albania's new Socialist government has shifted its foreign policy toward Turkey from a preferential to a strategic partnership, a move that reflects the Greek crisis and the growth of Turkey's investments in the region.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with Prime Minister Edi Rama earlier this month in Tirana, where they agreed to hold meetings between the two governments and appoint Turkish advisers in key fields in Albania such as energy, economy, health care and public order.
Albania "is one of the most important countries in terms of the stability in the Balkans," Davutoglu said after the meeting. "Our countries will continue to co-operate in the Balkans, in NATO as well as within other international organisations."
A strategic partnership document, aiming to further intensify co-operation between the two countries, will be signed soon, the Albanian Foreign Ministry told SETimes.
Enri Hide, a professor at the European University in Tirana, said Davutoglu's visit came during a time when traditional regional powers such as Greece have fallen from the region's political and economic scene.
As a result, the government in Tirana is showing a desire to forge a stronger connection with Turkey, marking a shift from the previous government policies, which were more oriented towards Athens.
"Albania has always followed a preferential line regarding its relations with Turkey. What has changed in years has been the intensity of this relationship," Hide said.
Hide noted that the decrease of Greek influence in the region has been taking place parallel to the increase of Turkey's power in the Balkans, which has been seen in the economic, cultural and religious sectors.
Hide said Turkey's impact on the regional energy network, the military power of Ankara and "the ability to project power," is important for Albania.
Turkey has offered multi-level assistance to Albania, including military training and arming, and investments in the infrastructure, health care, education, energy and trade sectors. So far this year, Turkey has invested more than $1 billion (726 million euros) in Albania, a large increase from the $150 million (100 million euros) it invested in the country in 2005.
"These are private investments or activities, but they should be seen as a real contribution for the stability and the economic growth of our country," Hide said.
In August, Rama visited Italy, Turkey and Greece, highlighting the strategic interest of Albanian foreign policy.
"We are ready to raise the relations with Turkey, which we consider as a strategic partner, to an unknown level," Rama said in an interview with Top Channel.
While forging new bonds with Turkey, Albania does not plan to change its co-operation with Greece. The relationship still contains open issues, however, including the definition of the seashell waters. An agreement on the situation reached by the two previous governments was turned down by the Albanian Constitutional Court.
Rama said his government has the will to solve the issue "with mutual trust."
"I believe we should strengthen relations with our neighbours and move to a process of strategic partnership with these three countries for a stronger Albania, politically, economically and socially," Rama said.
But former Foreign Minister Aldo Bumci said the new government has a "naïve position" on foreign policy.
"Albania has always been praised for its stabilising role in the region. They just want to be the 'good boy,'" Bumci said.
But Hide disagreed.
"Albania has acted in the right way in the regional balance of power," he said.
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