Albania and Greece say they have agreed to refer a dispute over maritime borders in the Ionian Sea to the International Court of Justice.
The joint decision was announced by the neighbouring Balkan countries during a visit to Tirana by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.
“We have agreed to pass on this case to international justice,” Dendias said after a meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Rama added that taking the case to The Hague would ”(join) the dots based on the (court’s) expertise and international maritime law”.
Greece has recently increased efforts to delimitate its sea borders, amid high tensions with Turkey over offshore energy exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.
While the dispute has threatened to trigger military confrontation, Athens has also signed deals with Italy and Egypt.
Tirana and Athens inked a deal to define their maritime border in 2009 when Albania was governed by the Democratic Party.
But Edi Rama’s Socialists, who were then in opposition, had challenged the agreement in court, claiming that Albania lost 225 square kilometres of territorial waters.
Albania’s Constitutional Court later nullified the agreement, deeming it unconstitutional.
“That issue will not be at our discretion nor that of the Greek side, but of international justice and in that way we shall focus on our economic [and] regional cooperation,” Rama said on Tuesday.
The European Union welcomed the decision by both countries to resolve the maritime dispute.
“Issues related to border change must be resolved through dialogue, in accordance with international law and respect of the principle of good neighbourly relations,” said European Commission spokesperson Ana Pisonero on Twitter.
Relations between Greece and Albania have been historically tense, over minority rights and Albania’s repealing of the 2009 Ionian Sea agreement.
Both governments in Tirana and Athens have stated that the ethnic Greek minority in Albania and the large population in Greece of Albanians, who emigrated there after the fall of communism, serve as bridges linking the two countries.