Source AP ©

Foreign ministers and senior officials from 18 countries meet in Bulgaria's capital

Foreign ministers and senior officials from 18 central and southeast European countries met in Bulgaria's capital to discuss cooperation in the region and the future reform of the Central European Initiative.

On behalf of Bulgaria, which holds the organization's rotating presidency, Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin urged closer cooperation to improve the prospects for members who do not yet belong to the European Union to join the bloc. He also called for harmonizing CEI priorities with those of other regional organizations.

"The Central European Initiative should continue to exist to transfer experience and knowledge to the countries of the Western Balkans which are facing future membership of the EU, and to the countries involved in the EU neighborhood policy," Kalfin said.

The initiative was created 17 years ago to bring the central and southeast European countries closer to the EU.

Participating countries are Albania, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine.

Nine CEI member states are EU members. Western Balkan countries are either taking steps to prepare for integration or waiting to start.