The European Conference of heads of state or government met in Athens yesterday for the first time since December 2000, when they met in Nice. Forty countries participated in yesterday’s meeting at the Zappeion Hall. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also attended. The purpose of the European Conference, which was established at the Luxembourg European Council in December 1997, is to bring together member states and aspirant member states that share values and objectives. A multilateral forum EU heads of state and government envisaged the European Conference as a multilateral forum for political dialogue. Its aim is to broaden and deepen cooperation on foreign and security policy, justice and home affairs, trade and regional cooperation. The Luxembourg conclusions stated: «The members of the Conference must share a common commitment to peace, security and good neighborliness, respect for other countries’ sovereignty, the principles upon which the European Union is founded, the integrity and inviolability of external borders and the principles of international law and a commitment to the settlement of territorial disputes by peaceful means.» Good neighborliness Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who is president-in-office of the European Council, said: «As the EU enlarges, good neighborliness becomes more, not less important, as our continent – and indeed the world – becomes increasingly interconnected. Our geographical proximity with the EU’s new neighbors after enlargement creates converging interests. «More and more – in areas from the environment, to border security, to public health – our challenges are our neighbors’ challenges. Only by working together will we be able to confront them effectively. «Just as we shoulder those responsibilities collectively, we should share the opportunities created by close regional cooperation. «We recognize that European diversity is one of our greatest sources of strength and stability. We are committed to deepening relations with our partners in the Mediterranean basin and to furthering our dialogue of cultures. «Our fruitful discussions today have given us greater confidence in our ability to work together to tackle our common challenges and make the most of our shared opportunities. That confidence is based on the values we share: freedom, democracy, tolerance, equality, solidarity and cultural diversity.» New policy aims The European Conference agreed yesterday that the aim of the new neighborhood policy should be to create: – An area of peace and stability, founded on shared political values such as the rule of law, respect for human rights and democratic principles; – A zone of prosperity built on progressive regulatory convergence, free trade and sustainable development; and – A shared space of social, cultural and human progress based on mutual tolerance between cultures and the development of civil societies. Celebrating diversity The European Conference emphasized that it would continue to celebrate the diversity of different countries and regions. It stressed the importance of differentiation, in that non-EU countries have different relations and aspirations vis-à-vis the Union. Nevertheless, it was agreed that geographical proximity creates converging interests and increases the importance of working together. Participants Participating countries in yesterday’s meeting were: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, FYROM, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine.