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EU Commissioner Sorry Over Greece-Albania Border Restructure Gaffe

July 16, 2018

The European Union’s Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn again has said he regrets talking about border restructuring between Greece and Albania but continued to insist what he said was misinterpreted and taken out of context after it drew anger in Greece.

In a press briefing in Brussels with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama at his side, the Austrian Commissioner said he was trying to explain that resolving differences between neighboring countries is required when one – such as Greece – is a member of the European Union and the other – such as Albania – wants to join.

His comments came at a particularly sensitive time for Greece, with anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras having given away the name of the ancient Greek province of Macedonia to let the neighboring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) be called North Macedonia.

Tsipras also lifted Greek vetoes preventing FYROM from getting into NATO and starting EU accession talks, with the deal drawing keen attention from Albania, which is still pushing Greece over rights for Chams who said they have a right to property left in Greece when they were expelled between 1944 and 1945 during World War II. Greece said they were Nazi collaborators have no rights.

Speaking on Albanian TV in February, Rama dismissed recent remarks by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias according to which Greek and Albanian officials are not discussing the Cham issue.
“Kotzias did not hear well. The Albanian side is intensely seeking to put the Cham issue on the table,” he said, acknowledging, however, that progress made on other issues of bilateral concern should not be jeopardized.

“We will insist because it is an Albanian issue,” the Albanian premier added. “We are talking about Albanian citizens who in the past had property in the Greek state… who have bitter memories.”
Tirana’s demand for the erection of a monument to the Chams in Epirus, northern Greece, is a “justifiable demand,” he added.

At the time, Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos rejected Rama’s calls. “Everyone would like to enrich their national interests (but) we will never accept the existence of a Cham issue,” he said.

Earlier this month Greece and Albania signed another strategic agreement with Rama telling the Greek state news agency ANA that, “As you know, we are also facing difficult but absolutely necessary process of solving issues among us, Albania and Greece.”

He added that, “The most important thing is that we use these problems to not only to solve them but also to transform the solution into a new level of partnership and cooperation.” The two countries have had relations for seventy years, he noted, “which have been characterized by more and more natural bonds between the people.”

The Albanian premier added, “It is very natural, and somehow through the solution we will reach the level of normal people, of average citizens who have already overcome the past and have embraced each other.”

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