Amid tight security, the leaders of 13 central European countries are in Slovenia for a two-day meeting to examine the role of central European states in a united Europe.
The heads of state gathered at the Slovenian lake resort of Bled. Some of their discussions will also take place at Brdo pri Kranju castle, near Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital. The castle was the site of a summit last year between U.S. President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The gathering comes as several central European countries - Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania - are close to concluding their entry negotiations with the European Union, which they hope to join by 2004.
But there has been concern among candidate countries that the rise of anti-immigration parties in Western Europe may prompt EU leaders to delay expanding the European Union eastward.
However, in remarks at the summit, Slovenian President Milan Kucan expressed confidence that EU enlargement would continue. He called the European Union "the foundation of a united Europe."
In addition to their relations with the European Union, the Central European leaders will also use the Slovenia meeting to discuss how to safeguard democracy and stability in Central and Eastern Europe. After a decade of fighting in the Balkans, the scene of Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II, all of the participants at the summit know how fragile that stability can be.