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EU Agrees On 4.5 Billion-Euro Aid For Candidate States

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- The European Union's executive arm has agreed how to spend 4.5 billion euros ($6.5 billion) in aid to the bloc's candidate countries in 2008-10, giving priority to improving governance and the rule of law.

The European Commission's decision brings closer the release of the EU funds to Croatia, Turkey, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and Kosovo.

"The road towards the EU is paved with reforms to improve the everyday lives of citizens and to comply with the strict EU accession criteria," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in a statement.

The Commission said the 1.8 billion euros of aid for Turkey would focus on supporting the stability of institutions so as to guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for minorities.

Turkey is an official EU candidate, but its membership is seen as distant, if achievable at all.

Croatia, which hopes to wrap up its accession talks next year, is to receive 451 million euros.

Its priorities include strengthening state institutions, cross-border cooperation and preparations for the country's participation in the EU's regional rural development policies.

Of the other candidates, all from the Western Balkans, Serbia is to receive 584 million euros in 2008-10.