Britain's Blair to advise Albania on joining EU

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) - Albania has signed on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as an adviser and lobbyist in its uphill struggle to join the 28-nation European Union.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said Blair would be "personally, totally and voluntarily" helping his government.

At a joint briefing in Tirana, Blair said joining the EU is the "right and proper" prospect for the former Communist country _ which until 1990 was the continent's most isolated.

"The orientation toward Europe is immensely important, and personally I'd love to see this country join the family of European nations," the former Labour premier said.

Albania first applied for EU candidate status in 2009, when it joined NATO. But Brussels twice turned it down, demanding better results in fighting corruption and organized crime, and in adopting democratic reforms.

Rama's main campaign pledge ahead of his June landslide election victory over his conservative predecessor Sali Berisha was to push for EU integration. Blair's team had advised Rama in his campaign.

"I harbor no illusions," Rama said Wednesday at a meeting with diplomats. "European integration is easy to speak of but very hard to attain."

Rama has promised to create 300,000 jobs and reduce poverty in one of Europe's poorest countries, where the average monthly salary is 36,482 leks ($361). A recent survey shows one in seven Albanians live on less than $2 a day.

Blair will not receive a fee for his help, according to Rama's spokesman, Endri Fuga. Fuga said the Albanian government would not be paying for a team of Blair's assistants, who will be stationed in Tirana, and funding for them will be sought from international institutions.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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