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Central European Leaders Meet On European Integration

Prague, June 7 (RFE/RL) - Nine Central European presidents are meeting today and tomorrow in the southeastern Polish town of Lancut to discuss cooperation.

The gathering brings together six presidents from the eastern part of Central Europe: Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, Arpad Goncz of Hungary, Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland, Michal Kovac of Slovakia, Milan Kucan of Slovenia and Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine - and three from the western part: Thomas Klestil of Austria, Roman Herzog of Germany and Oscar Luigi Scalfaro of Italy.

The meeting is organized under the auspices of the Central European Initiative (CEI), a loose group of states wishing to facilitate mutual cultural and economic ties. It is their fourth annual summit since 1993, following those held in the Austrian city of Salzburg, the Czech town of Litomysl and the Hungarian resort of Keszthely.

The current summit is again to focus on the twin issues of European unity and integration. But it also signals an almost unstoppable movement toward a new division within the region.

The summit's significance is in demonstrating a commonly shared resolve to stay together. No major political or economic decisions are expected. But the eastern leaders await some form of even symbolic support to their continuing drive to become integrated into European institutions.

And the westerners are certain to oblige. Austria, Germany and Italy have long been at the forefront of efforts to strengthen ties between the East and the West.

The European Union has repeatedly said that it favors the integration of the Central European countries. But it still has to provide the terms and the dates for their admission. The easterners see integration as key to economic prosperity and political stability of their region.

It is generally assumed that the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia have the best chance of gaining an early entry. And they clearly intend to make every effort to ensure that this is the case.

The CEI summits have provided easy opportunities to demonstrate their determination. And the Lancut one is no exception.

The participation of Ukraine, which has only recently joined the CEI and is attending for the first time, shows its growing aspiration to boost its ties with both central and western European states.

The gathering will feature a series of bi-lateral talks between leaders, a closed-door plenary session and a televised debate at the conclusion of the meeting.

But the striking aspect of the summit is the absence of other leaders from the region. Absent are Albanians, Bulgarians, Croatians or Romanians; all of them new to CEI. So are the leaders of the Baltic states. And no one represents Belarus.

It could be that the Lancut gathering has been designed to bring together the more politically and economically stable eastern countries and their western supporters. To affirm the easterners' will and ability to join the West as soon as possible. And to make it easier for the westerners to give assurances of their help in future entry.

But this also underscores the apparent differentiation between the "achievers" and "under-achievers" - Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are experiencing major political and economic problems and there is little prospect that these problems will end any time soon.

And it shows diversity of Western sponsorship - the Baltic states appear to have opted to direct their drive toward Europe through a "Scandinavian bridge" rather than the Central European one.

As for Belarus, this geographically Central European country clearly prefers to move eastward, toward Russia, rather than westward, toward Europe.

The Lancut summit serves to strengthen those differences and divisions.