Athens looks for Balkan stability

Greece attempted to restore normality to its Balkan relations yesterday by giving its approval to Bulgaria and Romania joining the European Union following the full-blown diplomatic incident on Tuesday involving the president’s canceled visit to Albania. The government still had to deal with the fallout yesterday from the short-lived trip to Albania by President Karolos Papoulias. The Greek ambassador to Tirana, Pantelis Karkabasis, lodged an official complaint with Albanian Foreign Minister Besnik Mustafaj about the failure of authorities to deal with a demonstration by a group of Cams outside a hotel in Saranda where Papoulias was to meet with his Albanian counterpart Alfred Moisiu. The demonstrators were demanding compensation for family homes lost when thousands of the minority were expelled from Greece following the Second World War after being accused of collaborating with the Nazis. Despite Tirana’s insistence that Papoulias had overreacted and taken an «unprecedented» step, the president received the government’s full backing yesterday. «The Greek government believes that the necessary measures were not taken so that the meeting between the two presidents could go ahead unhindered,» said alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros, referring to the protesters as «extreme elements» pursuing «non-existent» issues. However, Greece was able to take comfort yesterday from the strengthening of ties with two of its other Balkan neighbors, Bulgaria and Romania. The Greek Parliament ratified the EU accession of the two states, which are due to join the Union on January 1, 2007. The European Commission is due to decide in April or May next year whether the pair are ready to join by that date or need an extra year to prepare. In the presence of Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov and his Romanian counterpart, Traian Basescu, all MPs – barring those of the Communist Party – voted in favor of the two states joining the EU. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said that the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU would «boost the voice of the Balkans in Europe.» «This opens new prospects for strengthening regional cooperation,» said the premier. «We believe that a European future will effectively secure regional peace, stability and democracy.»

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