Central European leaders call for unity in the face of crisis

Central European leaders from 14 countries have called for more regional cooperation in the wake of the global economic crisis and for a better distribution of energy resources.

At a regional summit in the Serbian city of Novi Sad, host president Boris Tadic led the calls for solidarity in dealing with both economic and energy issues.

"We cannot permit that (these matters) become a source of our division, especially in the period of crisis," he said.

The region has been battered by the global economic crisis hitting the budding economies of the formerly communist central and eastern Europe particularly hard. Measures to tackle the recession, including cuts in the welfare benefits and salaries have provoked widespread protests from Latvia to the Balkans.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer said the global economic crisis remained "the most fundamental challenge," requiring multilateral cooperation.

"We must focus on the necessity to keep social balance and cohesion in our own societies. There's a special responsibility to protect the poorer and weaker," he said.
Key region in securing Europe's energy supplies

Apart from the economic woes of the global economic crisis, the summit's focus has been on energy issues. The region suffered severe shortages of heating gas last winter, when a dispute over payments between Russia and Ukraine saw supplies cut, particularly to Bosnia, Bulgaria and Serbia.

Serbian President Boris Tadic pointed out that Serbia and other western Balkan states were key to securing energy and stability for the rest of Europe.

"Our region is becoming an energy bridge leading to consumers in other parts of Europe. I am sure that we are going to succeed in this if we pursue a common energy policy."

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and Ukrainian leader Victor Yushchenko joined the call for better distribution and diversification of energy resources. Yushchenko urged European countries to adopt a "common policy and a common gas market" to minimize the risk of another gas crisis in the future.

The meeting brought together presidents from 14 countries - Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Italy, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine - for the 16th time.