The European Union has warned Albania against "interference" in neighboring countries and Serbian officials accused Tirana of wanting to build a "Greater Albania," after the Albanian prime minister said his country and Kosovo could one day have a single president.
Addressing Kosovo's parliament to celebrate the country's 10th anniversary since its declaration of independence from Serbia, Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama noted on February 18 that Tirana and Pristina already shared some diplomatic missions around the world.
"Why not a single president, as a symbol of national unity?" he added.
Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, declared independence nearly a decade after the 1998-99 Kosovo war. More than 110 countries recognize its independence. Serbia does not.
Both Albania and Kosovo have ethnic Albanian majorities.
Reacting to Rama's suggestion, European Commission spokeswoman Catherine Ray told reporters in Brussels on February 19 that "statements which might be interpreted as political interference in neighboring countries are not helpful in building good neighborly relations."
She added that the EU expected the six Western Balkan countries that remain outside the bloc, including Albania and Serbia, to "build constructive and cooperative relations and to focus and intensify the work on their own respective reform programs to move forward on the EU integration path."
Meanwhile, Rama's comments sparked furious reactions in Serbia, which in the past has accused Tirana of seeking to create a "Greater Albania" -- which Albania denies.
Nenad Popovic, Serbia's minister without portfolio in charge of innovation and technological development, said in a statement on February 19 that his country should declare the Albanian prime minister persona non grata.
He said that Rama's comments "point to a clear and unequivocal plan for the creation of a so-called Greater Albania in the Balkans and on Serbian soil."
Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said that "Greater Albania must finally, after centuries, be stopped in its expansion."
"For us, Kosovo is a part of our state and every time someone presents this kind of ideas, of course, it cannot be welcomed or accepted," said the head of Serbia's Government Office of Kosovo, Marko Djuric.
Officials in Kosovo have not commented on Rama's comments.
In his speech before Kosovo's lawmakers, the Albanian prime minister acknowledged that his suggestion was not likely to happen anytime soon, but added that "history tells us that it is not impossible for a dream to come true."
Rama also said that in the future, "Albanians and Serbians will co-exist...like two countries with good neighborly relations that are an integral part of the European Union."