TIRANA (AP) – Prime ministers and senior officials from 18 Central and Southeast European countries met yesterday in Albania’s capital to discuss closer regional cooperation and help some member countries with their NATO and EU membership bids. Officials from the Central European Initiative, or CEI – created 17 years ago to strengthen ties between the region and the European Union – and representatives from international institutions gathered in Albania, which held the organization’s annual rotating presidency. Seven CEI member states are EU members, and Bulgaria and Romania will join next year. Participating countries included Albania, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine. «The EU perspective has proven to be a driving force for the reform process and a stabilizing factor,» according to a final document of the summit. The regional new democracies were urged to strengthen democratic institutions, to increase governmental cooperation and «agreed that the fight against transnational organized crime and corruption is one of the goals of common interest to the CEI member states.» Participants reviewed the situation in the CEI region, encouraging closer ties with other regional partners and international organizations aiming at promoting joint projects with regional impact. «Although political dialogue remains an important element of our work, technical cooperation in infrastructure, energy, transport, small and medium-sized enterprises and human resource development have become an even more important part of our work,» CEI Director General Herald Kreid said at a news conference. The summit follows an economic forum attended by about 900 business leaders from participating countries who discussed reforms and investments for stimulating business development, competitiveness and entrepreneurship.