The swiftness with which the European Political Community (EPC) organized its inaugural meeting in Prague on Oct. 6, 2022 should not come as a surprise. French President Macron had suggested such a gathering in response to the Russian adventures in Ukraine in its early days. However, this is not the first time that Macron has suggested such ideas.
In 2017, Germany under Merkel turned a cold shoulder to Macron’s proposal of European “strategic autonomy.” Some feel that France has a tendency to put forth abstract notions, which Europe silently nods to but doesn’t work on.
However, with Ukraine and energy security on top of Europe’s current agenda, things seem different this time. Experts feel that the pace at which this congregation was put together shows that there is some level of collective will in Europe to discuss concerns of the larger European security order that transcend bilateral bickering.
Foundational Vision and Scope
When he had first envisioned this new European grouping, in May 2022, Macron had underlined a few significant things.
Macron envisioned that this community would organize Europe from a political perspective with a broader scope than the EU. “Joining it would not prejudge future accession to the European Union necessarily, and it would not be closed to those who have left the EU.”
He had said, “We are not at war with Russia. We are working as Europeans to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine so that peace returns to our continent. It is up to Ukraine alone to define the conditions for negotiations with Russia. But our duty is to stand with Ukraine to achieve the ceasefire, then build peace.” Macron had further added the need to build new security balances, to never give in to the temptation of humiliation or revenge.
Signaling an imperative for Europe to take the responsibility of its security into its own hands, Macron said, “The project for a Europe which is the master of its own destiny, free to make its own choices… a world in which we can choose our partners and not depend on them, is at the core of our agenda.”
Macron also went on to underscore the need to invest more in building European defense capabilities, end dependence on Russia for fossil fuels and move towards renewables, invest in internal food security resilience and increase the effectiveness of democracy as a political system.
The spirit of this new grouping can be captured by Macron’s statement that “It would bring our Europe together, respecting its true geography, on the basis of its democratic values, with the desire to preserve the unity of our continent and by preserving the strength and ambition of our integration.”
Regional Security Architecture
Scholars believe that in the last few years, both the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have been hijacked by Russia and Belarus. This is where the new EPC offers space for a serious political and strategic dialogue on a pan-continental scale.
As of now, the EPC only acts as a platform for political coordination by putting leaders “on an equal footing” and “does not replace any existing organization, structure or process, nor does it aim to create a new one at this stage.”
Forty-four participants were invited that included the 27 EU members, as well as others like, EU aspirants in the Western Balkan, former EU members like the UK, regional players like Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan etc. and even the presidents of the European Council and European Commission. A detailed list of the participants can be found here.
Some feel that the invitation to countries like Turkey and Azerbaijan shows that the focus of the EPC is shifting from democracy rejuvenation to cold geopolitics.
As far as the structure, decision-making procedure and criteria for inclusion are concerned, these are still early days and details around the nitty-gritty of the EPC are sparse. The EC Council feels that the EPC should meet twice a year, perhaps to discuss broader geopolitical challenges. Macron also prefers a more flexible structure without the needless procedural rules which cause unnecessary bottlenecks.
The Meeting in Prague and a Dose of Reality
In its inaugural meeting in Prague, countries were split into distinct streams and discussions primarily revolved around Russia’s war in Ukraine and Europe’s comprehensive support to Ukraine, the security of supply and affordable energy for European households and businesses and addressing climate change.
Apart from the hope of political dialogue and direction, some experts feel that the meeting in Prague could turn out to be another one-time photo opportunity. Deep disagreements between attendees, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, post-Brexit UK and not inviting Russia and Belarus could act as some limiting factors.
Non-EU countries who aspire to join the Union have also said that the EPC should not be a substitute for full EU membership. They have clearly said that the EPC should not undermine the enlargement of the EU.
There are other experts who feel that Macron’s initiative is an obvious political necessity and fills the space for an institutional framework that can accommodate the political need to bind Ukraine to Europe. Given the new British PM’s enthusiasm, the EPC has also raised hopes to bring the London-Paris bilateral dynamic back on a more constructive footing.
The attendance of Norway and Azerbaijan, two major oil and gas producers also points towards substantial discussions around energy security, at a time when Europe seeks rapid diversification from Moscow.
All said and done, the EPC could start with small informal steps geared towards nurturing frank discussions around Europe’s geopolitical and security environment by acting like a “concert by chamber orchestra.”
[Photo by Press Service of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Ved Shinde is a student of Political Science and Economics at St Stephens College, Delhi University, India.