The European scene of today shows a great variety of structures of multilateral regional co-operation. The Central European Initiative, which emerged right after the collapse of the communist system, is the oldest and largest of such initiatives. Founded by Austria, Italy, Hungary and Yugoslavia in 1989 as a quadrilateral co-operation, the CEI membership increased to 10 by 1994, to 16 by 1996 and to 17 in 2000 with the accession of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The CEI has established an integrated framework of dialogue, co-ordination and co-operation among its member countries in political, economic and cultural areas, thereby contributing to an atmosphere of mutual understanding, in which national and trans-national projects are being discussed, planned, financed and implemented.
CEI programmes and projects in various fields of activity are intended to contribute, within its overall strategy of cohesion and solidarity in Europe, to the realisation of the three principal CEI objectives:
- strengthening co-operation among and between Member States;
- strengthening the process of economic transformation of the CEI countries in transition;
- creating the preconditions for the participation of all Member States in the process of European integration.
The overall CEI strategy is aimed at the creation of a co-operative, safe and stable Europe. It represents a response to some of the major challenges facing the region, such as the disparities in the transition process and economic development in the region, persistent security threats from ethnic tensions, minority problems and organised crime, as well as the spread of sub-regional co-operation initiatives on the continent.
The CEI endeavours to co-operate with European organisations and institutions, in particular with the European Union, the Council of Europe, the OECD (LEED Programme) and the OSCE. It also co-operates with the UN system (in particular with the UNECE and UNIDO).
As for the co-operation of the CEI with other regional initiatives active in Europe (e.g. Stability Pact, SECI, CBSS, BSEC), efforts are under way to compare and evaluate the potentials of such initiatives and to identify their comparative advantage in areas of co-operation in view of a better division of labour among them.
The organisational structure of the CEI – as an intergovernmental forum for co-ordination and co-operation – is well developed, yet flexible and responsive to new developments.
The CEI holds one annual meeting of the Heads of Government (Summit) and two meetings of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, which provide overall guidance. The Committee of National Co-ordinators, responsible for the definition, co-ordination and implementation of various CEI activities, meets in principle on a monthly basis. Meetings at the level of political directors of the Ministries for Foreign Affairs are held twice a year. Sectoral Ministerial meetings are convened to deal with specific needs. Ministers responsible for the economy meet in the framework of the annual CEI Summit Economic Forum. Consultations are regularly held with other international organisations.
A number of Working Groups has been established in various areas of activity with the main task of identifying appropriate co-operation projects to be submitted to the Committee of National Co-ordinators for approval and financing.
Over the years the CEI has also developed a parliamentary dimension, where the Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Committee and the Conference of the Speakers of Parliaments of the Member States represent the fora for co-operation of the Parliaments of the CEI countries.
There is also what may be called a business dimension in the form of the Central European Chambers of Commerce Initiative (CECCI) – a network comprising all the Chambers of Commerce of the Member States with activities of its own.
The CEI Executive Secretariat in Trieste, Italy, assists the Presidency of the CEI, which rotates annually. The CEI-ES has the legal status of an international organisation and is responsible for administrative as well as conceptual support in the preparation and follow-up of the activities taking place in the framework of the CEI.
The CEI has an institutional link with the EBRD, where the CEI Trust Fund was established in 1996. The Secretariat for CEI Projects is located in the CEI-ES Headquarters in Trieste, Italy, but maintains a permanent office at the EBRD, London, with the task of assisting the CEI with economic strategies, investment projects and co-operation activities. One of the major annual events prepared by the Secretariat for CEI Projects is the Summit Economic Forum, which traditionally takes place in the capital of the country holding the Presidency and brings together hundreds of representatives of the business community and governments.
The following funds are available to cover CEI co-operation activities:
- The CEI Co-operation Fund, formed through annual contributions from the Member States
- The CEI Trust Fund, established by Italy at the EBRD
- The CEI Solidarity Fund, based on voluntary contributions from the Member States
The CEI follows with great interest the activities of the CBSS and other regional structures. Exchange of experiences among various groupings is very fruitful and may lead to the new ideas of developing co-operation.