Central European Initiative: 27 years
Immediately after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Italy, Austria, Hungary and the former Yugoslavia established – as it is known today - the Central European Initiative (CEI). Since its inception, the CEI has taken root, grown and finally blossomed into the largest and oldest regional intergovernmental forum, committed to supporting European integration. Currently counting eighteen Member States, the CEI has become a recognised promoter of EU/non-EU-country partnership and regional cooperation. Moreover, its unique geographical position makes the CEI the only regional international organisation connecting the Baltic, the Danube, the Adriatic-Ionian, the Black Sea and the Alpine regions. It is the only organisation providing a peer-to-peer environment for bridging experience and synergising the new added values of the macro-regional approach to the complexity of transnational governance and programming.
The CEI strategic objectives, outlined in the CEI Plan of Action, are focusing on supporting its Member States on their path towards European integration; promoting the alignment of the CEI Member States to EU standards; implementing small and medium-sized projects and converting constructive ideas into innovative results. In order to offer a solid contribution to European integration the CEI combines political dialogue (multilateral diplomacy) and project management. Through its project-oriented working method, the CEI is also a flexible basis for regional cooperation of its Western Balkan countries and the three Eastern Partners (Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine). The CEI is paying special attention to its non-EU Member States’ need for capacity building through know-how transfer and exchange of experience with its EU countries, thus also providing sound evidence of the permanent validity of its mission in these difficult times of political turbulence and economic crisis.
In order to meet the strategic objectives for the benefit of its Member States, the CEI makes use of a variety of Funds and Instruments for cooperation:
· Our 20-plus-year partnership with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is a real success-story in this regard, significantly contributing to strengthening CEI’s project-oriented dimension. The CEI Fund at the EBRD, towards which the Italian Government has solely made a total contribution of €41.5 million, mainly provides grant-type assistance for specific components of Technical Cooperation (TC) projects. Since its inception, the Fund has provided more than €24 million for funding 144 TC assignments, mobilising €4.8 billion of international investments in the countries of operations. For one euro spent on CEI Technical Cooperation, €215 had been invested by the EBRD and other International Financial Insitutions. The Fund’s main beneficiaries are the non-EU CEI Member States.
· Since 2004, the CEI Fund at the EBRD has also contributed a total of more than €2.2 million to the Know-How Exchange Programme (KEP) supporting 80 projects. As of 2008, the KEP has been also financed by Austria through an agreement with the Austrian Development Agency (ADA): it has so far committed around €0.9 million for 31 projects. Poland had also contributed with €50.000 to co-financed projects. The Programme, promoting the alignment of CEI Member States to EU standards, provides grants for projects related to capacity building and transfer of good practices and contributes to the economic and social advancement of the non-EU CEI countries. It also supports the recent EU Members in their transformation from recipients to donors of development assistance and promotes principles of foreign development aid as well as international collaboration among institutions in CEI countries.
· The CEI Cooperation Fund - financed by annual contributions from all Member States - supports small-sized projects, such as seminars, workshops, conferences, training courses, aimed at fostering mobility and people-to-people contacts in the CEI region. Through these Cooperation Activities, the intra-CEI mobility rate has grown to an average of 5,000 people every year. Since its inception in 2002, 947 activities have been co-financed with more than €8.7 million.
· To achieve the objectives outlined in its multi-annual Plan of Action, the CEI is also promoting result-oriented projects by participating in EU-funded programmes. We are proud of our records: 29 EU-funded projects, where the CEI operates both as Lead Partner and as a reliable, effective partner in key sectors of transnational cooperation, e.g. transport, science and innovation, renewable energy, cultural heritage, capacity building. Its long-standing activity in the promotion of regional cooperation and well-established networks in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe represent an added value for the construction of transnational, cross-border and interregional partnerships and for the elaboration of concepts and constructive ideas to be translated into innovative EU project applications. This operational participation in the implementation of the EU policies is also the mainstream of our concrete ties with the European Commission as mandated by our Foreign Ministers.
This CEI expertise in the implementation of transnational projects is also very important in view of pursuing the goals of the EU macro-regional strategies and of the Eastern Partnership, where most of our countries are included. All macro-regional strategies have a role to play for the benefit of the CEI non-EU Member States. Bringing them closer to the European Union in a very consistent way to reach the strategic goal driving our activity.
In a nutshell: the CEI is a well-functioning intergovernmental machinery with strong operational character, including an Executive Secretariat in Trieste, and project-oriented approach. Its manifold activities in various areas and initiatives to create a good business environment as well as its investment in a knowledge-based economy have served and are going to continue serving to increase the economic, social and territorial cohesion within the regional scope. The CEI also remains committed to supporting good-neighbourly relations, stability and prosperity of the countries in the region. The final scope of the CEI is to assist those countries remaining outside of the EU on their path towards further European integration. In this context, the CEI activities are devised in particular to assist in the preparations for EU membership of candidate countries and assure an active participation of its Eastern Member States.
 CEI Member States and accession date: Albania (1996), Austria (1989), Belarus (1996), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992), Bulgaria (1996), Croatia (1992), Czech Republic (1993), Hungary (1989), Italy (1989), Macedonia (1993), Moldova (1996), Montenegro (2006), Poland (1991), Romania (1996), Serbia (2000), Slovakia (1993), Slovenia (1992), Ukraine (1996)
Austrian ambassador in Moscow Dr. Klestil-Löffler