Central European leaders call on EU to keep momentum of enlargement

Mikulas Dzurinda and Janez Jansa, photo: CTK

Central European leaders met in the Slovak spa town of Piestany recently to discuss the future of Europe. Prime Ministers from established EU members such as Austria sat down to lunch with leaders of countries which are very far from joining, such as Belarus and Moldava. They ended the meeting with an appeal to the European Union to keep the momentum of enlargement to southern and eastern Europe. Rob Cameron was at the Piestany summit, and has this report.

Mikulas Dzurinda and Janez Jansa, photo: CTK
For those countries still waiting for EU membership, the CEI is a chance to mingle with leaders of those countries who are already inside it. Slovakia, which is chairing the CEI this year, joined the EU with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 2004. Mr Dzurinda told reporters that CEI membership - though its benefits were difficult to measure in exact terms - had provided his country with an extremely useful forum.

"It is quite difficult to measure. But I can tell you that the exchange of views, meeting each other, speaking together, this is the substance via which I believe we were capable of going ahead faster. It was important in the beginning, seven years ago, when I started in this position, to meet the prime minister of Italy. I remember our meeting in Trieste. It was quite important to meet the chancellor of Austria. I believe that thanks to this possibility, to communicate, to implement new programmes, these means are substantial and good for the countries which are trying to follow the same way."

Mr Dzurinda's Slovenian counterpart Janek Jansa said his country - which also joined the EU in 2004 - now wanted to help other countries further down the EU integration process.

"We are not members of the Central European Initiative only because this is useful just for us. Now we are a member of the European Union and now we also want to help other countries."

Sali Berisha and Mikulas Dzurinda, photo: CTK
Those CEI countries which hope to join the European Union in the near future include Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia. But the EU doesn't plan to stop there. It has ambitions to extend further into the western Balkans and possibly into Eastern Europe. That, however, is subject to political and of course financial considerations. Next year it will be Albania's to chair the CEI. Sali Berisha is the country's prime minister.

"The Albanian presidency will focus on major themes. Co-operation and understanding, promoting investment, exchange of know-how, and also getting the highest profit from the very excellent experience that EU member countries of the area present to other countries striving [to join the EU]."

Albania is often described as the poorest country in Europe. The conventional wisdom is that EU membership for Albania is a long way off, but Prime Minister Sali Berisha told the media his country was making great strides and there was a realistic chance of Albania joining in the next decade.