In 1989 Italy promoted the Central European Initiative (CEI), whose members today number 18, 9 of which are EU members, 6 of which have future prospects for becoming members, and 3 of which benefit from neighbourhood policies.
Within the system of regional groups and initiatives operating in South Eastern Europe, the scope of the CEI, traditionally been characterised as being focused on the region of the Danube, is the point of reference for the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative, which is under the leadership of Italy and aims essentially at encouraging closer collaboration in that region with the involvement of the Western Balkan coastal nations.
Both for the CEI and the AII, the Adriatic-Ionian dimension is capable of increasing the possibility of contacts and collaboration with the Mediterranean region.
At the summit of CEI heads of government countries held in Sofia in 2007, decisions were adopted to strengthen political dialogue and economic cooperation between member countries by concentrating efforts on a limited number of qualified projects, particularly in the area of transport, energy, infrastructure, small and medium-sized enterprises, the environment, sustainable development and strengthening the connection with the European Union by boosting the CEI’s complementary role in the forging of community strategies in the region.
The CEI holds an annual summit of heads of government at the end of the duty presidency, and a meeting of foreign ministers, while operational management is handled by the Committee of National Coordinators, which meets periodically.
A CEI parliamentary dimension has developed over time structured mainly on the model of a parliamentary assembly and a few ad hoc committees; an “economic” dimension has also evolved, an important role in which is played by the Summit Economic Forum of ministers for economic development. Over the years other ministerial level meetings have been added in sectors such as tourism, transport and energy.
The CEI functions as a result of its members’ obligatory contributions to the Cooperation Fund, those of Italy being the most substantial part. The Secretariat is entirely sustained by Italian contributions, and in 2008 Italy refinanced the Italian Trust Fund of the EBRD for projects in the CEI area with 6 million euro for the 2008-2010 triennial.
Within the context of the strategy for relaunching the Initiative, the heads of government of the CEI countries meeting in Bucharest in November 2009 sought a greater connection between the Initiative and the European Union in order to enhance the CEI’s role as bridge between the EU and its neighbours. On Italy’s proposal a group of experts is to be formed who are to review the Initiative’s mechanisms and activities with a view to making it a more effective cooperation tool in the area.
This aspiration should lead to strengthening relations between the CEI and the European Commission, and to the CEI’s more incisive participation in projects aimed at achieving community priorities in South Central and South Eastern Europe, including the beneficiaries of the policies of the eastern partnership with the EU.
The CEI’s current duty presidency is held by Montenegro.