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Macedonia: CEI Summit Gathers Officials From 17 Countries

Representatives of 17 Central and Eastern European countries are in the second day of a three-day summit in the Macedonian capital of Skopje today. The meetings of the Central European Initiative are aimed at promoting political and economic cooperation between its members.

Prague, 14 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Officials from the 17 countries of the Central European Initiative (CEI) are meeting in Skopje, Macedonia, today in a bid to promote greater political and economic cooperation.

The CEI was founded in 1989 to promote ties between Austria, Italy, Hungary, and the former Yugoslavia. Since then, it has grown to become the largest regional cooperation initiative to emerge in postcommunist Central and Eastern Europe. Other members now include the Czech Republic, Poland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Macedonia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Albania, and Moldova.

A series of political agreements are expected to be signed tomorrow, when the highest-ranking government officials attending the summit are due to meet. Sessions yesterday and today have focused on security issues in the region as well as details of financial projects expected to be signed tomorrow.

CEI General Director Harald Kreid says the summit's final declaration will be a political document that provides a basis for cooperation between member countries during the next year. Critics of the CEI have said that previous declarations by the group have not been fully implemented. But Kreid has responded to those criticisms by noting that the CEI has financed 30 projects during the past year alone.

Macedonian Economy Minister Ilija Filipovski used Skopje's status as the summit host to promote investment by the private international companies that have sent delegates to the event: "We have reforms aimed at removing the barriers to foreign investment. [We have] a national strategy to encourage foreign investment, to make it easier for foreign companies to register in Macedonia, and state guarantees to protect foreign investment."

Filipovski's remarks reflect the kind of reforms that the CEI leadership is hoping to encourage.

Leaders of the chambers of commerce from all 17 CEI member countries adopted language yesterday for a declaration promoting greater economic cooperation. That declaration, which is expected to be signed on 15 November along with other political documents, focuses on the development of trade and financial exchanges, as well as the creation of a joint information network to simplify administrative and legal obligations faced by potential investors.