Croatia has become the first candidate country to join the European Union's (EU) MEDIA 2007 programme - the support programme for the region's audiovisual industry.

European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding, on Monday signed a Memorandum of Understanding that allows Croatia to participate in the programme with Ambassador Branko Baricevic, Head of the Croatian Mission to the EU.

Currently, there are three officially recognised candidate countries for membership of the EU: Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia and Turkey.

Croatia's participation in MEDIA 2007 has been given the go-ahead as the result of its progress in complying with EU audiovisual rules and acquis, in particular the Television Without Frontiers Directive.

The MEDIA programme co-finances training initiatives for audiovisual industry professionals, as well as the development of production projects such as feature films.

One of the main objectives of the programme is the distribution and promotion of European films beyond their country of origin.

'I warmly welcome the entry of Croatia in the MEDIA 2007 programme,' said Commissioner Reding. 'I am convinced that Croatia's participation will give a push for a more active cooperation between the film industries of EU countries and the Croatian film industry. MEDIA 2007 will help Croatia promote Croatian films and distribute them more widely across borders and allow more audiovisual works from the rest of Europe to find an audience in Croatia.'

Croatia is generally thought to have a growing film industry, having worked through a difficult transition from state subsidy to independence.

That industry should now be further strengthened through access to finance and support in the development, distribution and promotion of film and other audiovisual works, particularly as it transitions towards digital technology.

Croatian films that have received international recognition in recent years include: Kristijan Milic's The Living and the Dead and Ognjen Svilicic's Sorry For Kung Fu.

The Media Programme is now in its fourth incarnation since it was launched in 1991. The current programme, MEDIA 2007 will run from 2007 to 2013, with a budget of $1.19bn (Euros 755m) over 7 years.

In line with the other non-EU participating countries, Croatia will contribute to the MEDIA programme budget. Its contribution will be $201,360 (Euros 127,333) in 2008, increasing to $220,673 (Euros 139,546) in 2013.

MEDIA now has 32 members - the 27 EU Member States plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Croatia.