Could the EPC keep Europe in the face of the Russian threat? | Opinions
The European Political Community (EPC) is now a fact. A summit in Prague on October 6, attended by leaders from some 44 countries, inaugurated the pan-European club. Originally proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron in a speech to the European Parliament, the EPC brings together the 27 members of the European Union as well as its neighbours: from Ukraine to Azerbaijan and from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Georgia.
Significantly, the forum also includes the UK and Turkey, two major players in ‘greater Europe‘, both of which are outside the EU. Prime Minister Liz Truss and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan both made an appearance in Prague.
With such a composition, Macron had good reason to feel satisfied. A new organization was born to ensure security and stability in Europe and France is in charge. The Elysée thinks it has a vision and a plan. From the French point of view, the EPC kills two birds with one stone.
On the one hand, it draws neighbors into the EU’s orbit – even hard cases, like Britain and post-Brexit Turkey, which is at odds with a number of EU member states. Union, including France. More than that, the EPC encompasses war-torn Ukraine and other candidates for EU membership in the post-Soviet space, such as Moldova and Georgia.
On the other hand, it is a broad and loose arrangement, as the EPC leaves enough room for integration to accelerate within the EU, and in particular its core formed by the euro zone. .
COVID-19 has led to more fiscal solidarity in the form of loan. Paris is championing the deepening of common institutions and politics, especially if it happens under its leadership. All this adds to the coveted goal of “strategic autonomy”, the idea that “Europe” (i.e. the EU) should invest in internal cohesion and also strive to act independently in international affairs at a time of heightened U.S.-China bipolarity. form.
The big question is whether the EPC works for countries outside the EU. Do they see an added value or on the contrary do they agree to play a role to please the EU and/or France? The answer varies depending on where you sit on the map.
For Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, EPC is a welcome development. It anchors them even more firmly in the EU-centric regional order and reinforces the pre-existing network of treaties and institutional models that link them to the club of 27. In June, the European Council granted Kyiv and Chisinau the status of candidate countries.
Now, the EPC draws a symbolic but clear border between them and Russia which uses all possible means, including war, to rebuild its empire. So Macron’s brainchild really counts for something in the East.
Things are much more ambiguous in the Western Balkans which have been stuck in the EU waiting room for almost two decades. The French president tried to to reassure Balkan countries that EPC membership will not harm their path to membership. The fact that the Czech Republic, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU, hosted the inaugural meeting should send a strong signal in this regard.
Western Balkan leaders politely agree. Privately, however, they are anything but enthusiastic about what could turn out to be a chat room, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), at best, and a diversion away from the EU. , at worst.
The stakes are also high for Turkey and the UK. For these two, the CPE is a political opportunity to reestablish themselves in Europe and influence regional affairs. We were given a taste of what might be in store, when in Prague Erdogan found himself sitting in a hall with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Nikol Pashinyan and Ilham Aliyev.
Flanked by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the Turkish president appeared to mediate between the two South Caucasian states, a role usually reserved for Russia.
Truss, for his part, used the Prague meeting to reset relations with Macron, pledging to hold a France-UK summit next year and discussing current issues, including the current energy crisis. which affects both countries. In the long term, EPC could serve as a basis for gradual policy convergence between London and the EU.
Yet the EPC may struggle to fulfill the role of catalyst for closer and more cooperative relations with Turkey and the UK. EU relations with Ankara and London remain strained.
Turkey’s squabbles with EU members Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean are not going to be resolved anytime soon and, in fact, could worsen ahead of Greek and Turkish elections slated for the summer. 2023.
The United Kingdom and the EU give no indication that they will break the deadlock over the content of the Northern Ireland protocol that London wants to revise in order to remove the customs border in the Irish Sea which now separates the ‘Ulster from the rest of the country . It would probably take a Labor government to clean up relations, which would no doubt give the EPC a boost too.
The recent history of French diplomacy in Europe offers many examples where lofty visions have come up against harsh political realities. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for the Mediterranean lost momentum shortly after its launch in 2008. 1990s.
This new initiative may fare better, taking advantage of the headwinds of war in Ukraine. Still, it’s too early to say whether that would make much of a difference in European politics.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.