Pierre Vimont / May 2023
When launched by Emmanuel Macron in May 2022, the idea of a European Political Community (EPC) was met with a large dose of skepticism. However the initiative rolled on and the first summit meeting of the new entity last October resulted in an unexpected political success.
The leaders from the 44 European states assembled in Prague were pleased by the informality of the meeting and the equal footing status granted to all. Sideline conversations were perceived as useful, some of them even leading to mediating efforts like in the case of Armenia and Azerbaïdjan. No final statement was expected thus avoiding endless drafting sessions. And a final consensus emerged to keep the EPC alive with a twice yearly summit rotating between an EU and a non-EU country.
From Prague to Chisinau
Following that first encounter, the second EPC Summit is now coming to fruition on 1 June in Chisinau. And with it the so far unanswered question about the exact purpose and the added value of this new forum.
Naturally the Chisinau Summit will bring its own narrative. The symbolic importance of gathering nearly all the nation states of Europe in Moldova, a country close to the battlefields of the Ukraine conflict, speaks for itself. It sends to Moscow a powerful message of solidarity from European leaders to a country whose political authorities have constantly underlined their concern over the permanent Russian threat against their nation. This significance of the Chisinau reunion can only enhance what has been so far the main contribution of the EPC, namely a show of unity in times of war from all European states with Russia and Belarus being conspicuously excluded. There has been until now no need for further public explanation. The mere presence of so many representatives of the European family made the message loud and clear.
Nevertheless is this anti-war drive solid enough to sustain the EPC beyond the Chisinau meeting? The main success of the Prague Summit relied on the decision to keep the process going. In Chisinau it will be the symbol locked in the location. Additionally, thanks to the preliminary discussions among the sherpas in charge of the Summit preparation, some concrete deliveries will probably emerge from the meeting with hands-on projects in areas like infrastructure investments, energy, connectivity or action against disinformation.
Yet, notwithstanding the importance of the political support addressed to Moldova, questions over the added value of the EPC and its positioning within the current framework of European institutions will remain. The issue may not find an immediate answer in Chisinau but it will linger on as more calls will be heard for a more institutionalised process.
The risk of any institutionalised push
From that perspective many commentators and some of the delegations in Prague have already flagged the risk for the EPC of becoming a mere talking shop and losing gradually its relevance and its momentum. But the push for a more institutionalised approach hides diverging motivations and possibly harsh divisions
Observing with concern the parallel track opened by the EPC to the enlargement process, the EU institutions are eager to have this new entity positioned in a complementary role to the current accession procedures. In the eyes of the Brussels system, the EPC should be reconfigured as a political platform dedicated to a permanent dialogue between the EU and the candidate countries. Within this new role as a preparatory background for future memberships, the EPC could then be chaperoned by the EU institutions with a secretariat handled by the EU Commission and future cooperation projects embodied in the different programs managed by Brussels.
Such an option will raise strong opposition from nations like Britain, Norway or Switzerland which came to Prague on the tacit agreement that the EPC would be free from any EU connection. Losing these partners would undeniably undermine the credibility of the nascent EPC. It also could feed alternative propositions like bringing the EPC closer to one of the existing European institutions such as the Council of Europe.
The setting for a much needed geopolitical discussion
How to avoid this splitting circle? European leaders need to better understand the nature of the process they have triggered when they embarked on the EPC ship. As war returns to Europe, European nations are rediscovering the reality of hard geopolitics and the importance of a direct political dialogue between states. As meaningful as the EU contribution has been since the start of the Ukraine conflict, the ongoing political efforts to find a way out of the present conflict have rekindled the most traditional statecraft between the nations of Europe.
In this context, the EPC is filling an empty space. By convening in war times the European family it gives to its members the opportunity to share collectively their thoughts about the future security of their continent. The open dialogue among equals launched in Prague and pursued in Chisinau is shoring up a better understanding between all European countries of their respective strategic cultures and geopolitical objectives.
The EPC is probably not the definitive answer to this existential moment for Europe. Many aspects of the issues raised during its sessions may have to be at some point transferred to the relevant fora, be it Nato, the EU or the OSCE. But the EPC represents the first step in an overall quest for a new European order. It must be allowed to free flow and innovate. For what is most needed for the time being is to allow all European nations to have their say about the reconstruction of a more sustainable security order in a free and stable Europe.