Albania appears an unlikely bright spot on Europe’s gloomy economic map, with international institutions still forecasting positive growth of about 1.2 per cent this year.
While its cash-strapped Balkan neighbours seek emergency finance from the International Monetary Fund, Europe’s second-poorest country, after Moldova, secured a €250m ($340m, £224m) medium-term commercial loan last month, arranged by Deutsche Bank and Alpha Bank of Greece.
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....but stil a long way to go to EU
The European Commission had urged Albania to put off its application to the EU until after the country's general elections on June 28.
All elections held in Albania since the demise of communism in the early 1990s have been disputed and marred by incidents. The European Commission has said that elections in post-communist Albania have never been certified as free or fair by international observers.
In a report released by the Commission late last year, it said more progress was needed in Albania on fighting organised crime and corruption, and that the state administration and the courts needed to be strengthened.
Albania has been trying -- parliament adopted a new electoral law last November aimed at preventing fraud -- but there is a long way to go.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha said that the country's formal application to the EU was of "historic significance" and marked Albania's return to the "family of European nations."
"Albania has proved today that it is a functioning democracy," he said on Tuesday.
Berisha also said that 96 percent of Albanians wanted to join the EU.
Michael Leigh, the European Commission's director general for enlargement, said that holding free and fair parliamentary elections in June remained a key condition.
"It is now up to Albania to demonstrate its capacity to move to the next stage of European integration," Leigh said. (Deutsche Welle, May 3).