European Political Community: vital step in formation

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In the beginning of October 2022, a special even took place for the European political elites: the EU-27 leaders hold a historic meeting in Prague Castle -though an informal one –joined by participants from over a dozen nearby countries, e.g. the UK, Turkey, Ukraine, etc. At the inaugural meeting of the European Political Community, the states’ leaders debated the future aims of this multinational grouping and its importance for European future and integration. 

About 45 state leaders and prominent politicians gathered in Prague/Czech Republic this summer in order to fulfill a long-time awaited idea to create a European-wide political community to deal with regional and global issues.
While the inaugural day in Prague was generally about the EU’s relationship with neighboring countries (e.g. the UK, Ukraine, etc.) some discussions also included such issues as energy showdowns, the southern Europe’s MidCat pipeline and existing tensions around the gas price cap. Germany made a fresh initiative to tackle high gas prices jointly with “friends in Japan and Korea,” who also suffer from high energy costs, instead of enforcing a European gas price cap; however, it was unclear whether this proposal will convince other EU partners.
While no official conclusions were reached at the Prague summit, the discussions will continue until the next EU leaders’ official summit in Brussels at the end of October. France and the UK signal rapprochement, but rivals Greece and Turkey leave angry after the first European Political Community’ event, noticed Politico, calling it just a “Europe’s newest diplomatic forum” and argued that it “had left many skeptical, but there was plenty to keep leaders feeling upbeat”.

The European Policy Center noted that the European Political Community (EpoC) should clearly and unambiguously underline that its members have to share EPoC’s democratic and like-minded character. Rules, principles, and red lines should be established at the beginning and not halfway through the process. One of the greatest tests of the Prague summit will be how leaders navigate this delicate balancing act between the EPoC’s values-based aspirations and the heterogeneity of the group that was attending the summit. The Center, actually, posed a couple of questions: what is the European Political Community’s added value in today’s geopolitical context, and what purpose could – and should – it serve?
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In the short-term, the political community should increase European “democratic resilience” and jointly confront existing geo-economic and – political calamities: from food security and rising inflation to soaring energy prices and the need to reduce European dependency on fossil fuels.
And also in the long-term, “increasing democratic resilience” implies addressing the broader global divide between democracies and autocracies, as well as countering the rise of authoritarian powers.
This could include tackling foreign interference in elections, disinformation campaigns, or/and pervasive economic and political meddling of foreign powers in European affairs. The political community should also look at how EU states can collectively support democratic forces and opposition parties in their socio-economic agendas, with developing a collective strategy to uphold and restore credibility in both European and the international rules-based order. The European policy center underlined that “without a clear set of geographic and values-based boundaries, leaders risk turning the Community into another big UN-like forum, where the best one can hope for is an outcome based on the lowest common denominator, with little added value or policy consequence”. And continued: “indeed, one of the greatest tests of the Prague Summit will be how leaders navigate this delicate balancing act between the Community’s values-based aspirations and the heterogeneity of the group that is attending the summit” (see above reference).

Disagreements over how to tackle Europe’s energy crisis kept arising. At least two adversarial countries couldn’t contain their mutual anger during the session. And at least one big question remains: Can this broader community of European leaders – an idea that has been touted in various fashions for decades but always fizzled out – really gets off the ground and delivers concrete results? Generally, the EPoC’s intent is to focus on the background that unite European politicians about Russia’s war in Ukraine; however, many were wondering about another vital issue tempting to lead yet to another high-level summit involving thousands of traveling politicians and dignitaries, like already existing forums of the type of G7 and G20.
Still, there were definite high points, e.g. the British prime minister made it clear that her attendance doesn’t mean she is “moving closer to Europe”, a delicate reminder of the UK’s balancing in “re-calibrate a post-Brexit relationship with Europe”. As the EPoC goes forward, a looming challenge will be participation of candidate-states to join the EU, e.g. states from the Western Balkans and even Ukraine; the latter expect the EPoC to be a more solid and really functional organisation.
As experts confirmed, the inaugural meeting, among other ideas, was in many ways about the EU making inroads with energy-rich neighbors, as the bloc desperately tries to wean itself off Russian gas; for example, Norway, a crucial gas exporter, also participated in Prague. But according to multiple officials, the Norwegian prime minister hedged his bets about how far the country is prepared to go when it comes to lowering prices, as Europe mulls a gas price cap.
Similarly, French PM dismissed a key energy project which some of his country’s neighbors argue will help to resolve the EU’s energy problems, i.e. the so-called “MidCat” pipeline connecting Spain with Germany and the rest of Europe.
However, the EU-27 bloc looked fragmented when it comes to a possible gas price cap, with multiple proposals now circulating; the complexity of the issue (and a lack of consensus) means that the first meeting is unlikely to generate a final decision on energy. Meanwhile, anger lingers over Germany’s decision to introduce a colossal €‎200 billion energy package to help its own consumers and businesses, which bear the cost not every EU country can hold.
Currently, the process of launching an EPoC is being led by EU institutions and the rotating Presidency of the Council; however, this process should be handed over to an organising committee composed of both EU and non-EU countries, which would decide on the EPoC’s governance structure, membership/participation criteria and next steps.
The European Policy Center underlined that the “regional political community” may need to clarify finally several vital issues: e.g. should the Community serve as another vehicle for furthering EU integration of long-standing members, or enlargement to new ones? Should it serve as a forum for debates around the EU’s institutional reform or the Union’s absorption capacity? Discussions on these and other issues will go on after the Prague meeting too with a certain risk of making the EpoC too EU-dominated. Some say that discussions about the future of the EU should, therefore, be out of the EpoC’s reach, whereas not doing so could undermine its geopolitical reach.
As Marta Mucznik noted in Politico’s commentary titled “The European Political Community: time to invest in the power of democracies” (4.x.2022), if the newly established Community would like to make a difference, it “cannot be everything for everyone”: from serving as a geopolitical forum for high-level exchange to solving all the EU’s institutional hurdles, to serving as a trampoline for EU aspiring members. It’s up to European leaders to decide what they want it to be and give it strategic direction.
However, a forum where European politicians could come to collectively think, strategize and coordinate responses to ever increasing geopolitical and European challenges seems the most obvious and timely choice.


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