Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Crisis prompts some Albanian workers to quit Greece
Albanians make up by far the largest foreign workforce in Greece.

Crisis prompts some Albanian workers to quit Greece

TIRANA, May 12 - Greece's economic crisis is prompting some Albanian workers there to return home, and is showing the Balkans that joining the EU does not magically solve all problems, Greece's ambassador to Albania said on Tuesday.

"Some of them are returning back," said Nikolaos Pazios. "They are maybe disappointed in Greece, they have administrative problems, or they think the situation is getting better in Albania."

Albanians make up by far the largest foreign workforce in European Union-member Greece, with about 800,000 Albanians there, many in private construction, agriculture and tourism.

The ambassador said it is too soon to speak of a major wave of departures. Another Greek official in the region has said Albanians were leaving permanently but said the exact numbers were unclear.

After the fall of the hardline Communist regime, many Albanians went to Greece to find relief from the then poorest corner of Europe. Greeks invested in Albania to become the top foreign investor with $1.2 billion and second trade partner.

Now, many Albanians also fear the Greek crisis could prompt some Greek business to go home or reduce their exposure.

"If they reduce the investment in finance and telecommunications, they are going to destroy the roots of productivity in Albania," said Arben Malaj, a member of parliament and former finance minister.

Many Albanian workers send a chunk of their earnings home, a vital contribution to the country of 3.3 million people which suffers from a large trade imbalance. Remittances fell 6.4 percent to 780 million euros in 2009 compared to a 2008.

"Albanians in Greece have had a hard time for the past year," said Oliver Whittle, CEO at Albania's largest bank Raiffeisen.

Greece has advocated admitting Albania and former Yugoslav nations into the EU by 2014, a date widely seen as wildly optimistic. Pazios said Greece's recent economic troubles did contain a sobering message for Albania, which applied for EU membership last year, and others in the region.

"They believe this perspective will solve the problems -- it won't," he said. "Europe is not a panacea...But there is no going back."

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