The Central European Initiative (CEI) was founded in 1989 by Austria (neutral), Hungary (Warsaw pact), Italy (NATO) and Yugoslavia (non-aligned). Today it consists of 18 member states, 10 of which are EU members (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia) and 8 non-EU members (Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Ukraine).
In December 2011 the CEI was granted observer status in the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Due to the diversity of its members, the CEI is in a unique position to act as a bridge between macro-regions, e.g. Adriatic, Alpine, Baltic, Black Sea, Danube, South East Europe etc. The CEI as the oldest and biggest intergovernmental forum in Central Europa supports especially the Western Balkan states in their efforts of obtaining EU membership. Due to the crisis in the Ukraine also the three members of the EU Eastern Partnership (Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine) have gained importance within the organization.
The headquarters of the CEI are located in Trieste. The positions of the Secretary General and of her/his alternate traditionally rotate between Austria and Italy which are the main contributors to the CEI budget. Today the Italian diplomat Giovanni Caracciolo di Vietri holds the function of the Secretary General, the Austrian diplomat Margit Waestfelt is his Alternate.
The CEI also holds a trust fund at the EBRD. Out of the contributions the CEI finances activities and projects for cultural, economic and scientific cooperation while focusing on future EU memberships or the EU Neighborhood Policy. Priority is given to capacity building of the non-EU CEI Member States (e.g. technological development, transport and energy).
The CEI Know-how Exchange Program (KEP) was established in 2004 as an instrument for co-financing projects fostering the transfer of know-how and best practices from EU to non-EU CEI Member States which are seeking EU integration and alignment to EU standards. KEP is mainly financed by Italy and Austria.
From 1 January to 31 December 2014 Austria was presiding the Central European Initiative. During this presidency, the CEI celebrated its 25th anniversary. Austria organized a meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs on 03 June back to back with a Western Balkans Conference and a summit of the Prime Ministers on 24 November back to back with the annual summit of the Vienna Economic Forum. To underline the importance of Vienna as the third Headquarters of the United Nations, the Austrian presidency laid its focus also on cooperation and synergies with other international and regional organizations.