Thursday, October 18, 2007

European Commission gives €200 million to reform Albania's economy, judiciary, fight poverty

The Associated Press
Published: October 18, 2007

Poto: Solana and Berisha

TIRANA, Albania: The European Commission will give Albania €200 million (US$284.5 million) in a three-year program to help the country reform its economy and judiciary, promote social development and fight poverty, officials said Thursday.

The program, which will run until 2009, was announced by the commission's office in Tirana and the Albanian Ministry of European Integration. It aims to strengthen Albania's democratic institutions and the rule of law, reform its public administration, promote economic reforms, enhance human and minority rights and gender equality, develop civil society and regional co-operation, strengthen sustainable development and reduce poverty, according to a statement. The program will also help the country align its laws with EU legislation. The aid package comes under an assistance program for countries that are considered possible future members of the European Union.

Last year Tirana signed a pre-membership agreement with the EU, an initial step toward joining the 27-member union. The agreement allows it to benefit from the assistance program under EU budgets for 2007-2009 for transition assistance, institution building and cross-border cooperation.

Ambassador Helmuth Lohan, who heads the European Commission's delegation to Albania, said the Albanian government would be expected to gradually assume responsibility for implementing the program. Brussels also wants more media freedom, an independent judiciary, stronger property rights and a tougher fight against corruption in Albania, a Balkan country of about 3.2 million people, which is one of the poorest in Europe.

The EU is the biggest aid donor to Albania, providing more than €1.2 billion (US$1.7 billion) since 1991.

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