Pierre Vimont / Sep 2022
Amid some skepticism and even more perplexity, the new European Political Community carries on. First proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron when addressing last June the concluding session of the Conference on the Future of Europe, it is now about to be launched in the margins of the next informal European Council on October 6 in Prague.
Formally, the European Political Community (EPC) was endorsed by the previous European Council last June although with no clear idea on the nature or the objective of this new entity. At that time, the Union leaders mostly agreed on what the EPC should not be : neither an alternative to EU membership nor a substitute to the enlargement process. From there, they only sketched out in broad terms the EPC mandate underlining the need to shore up political dialogue and technical cooperation with the overarching goal of strengthening European security and prosperity.
Yet this new initiative from Emmanuel Macron smacked too much of the stillborn European Confederation proposed by François Mitterrand in 1989 to not be perceived by its partners as a fresh update of France’s traditional resistance to the whole enlargement notion. And this impression could only be enhanced by the new momentum given to the whole accession process with the acceptance of the candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, the declared intention of speeding up the talks with the West Balkan nations and the long awaited opening of the negotiation rounds with Albania and North Macedonia. Despite French reassurances and the open support of significant partners such as Germany, Ukraine and Moldova, the overall mood among EU member states has remained and still is one of cautious adherence.
There are some good reasons for that as many questions are left unanswered on the eve of the EPC session. France may well have clarified its intention with public statements from its new Minister for European Affairs, Laurence Boone, insisting on the objective of developing the common identity of the European family and enhancing its geopolitical influence, three issues still loom large.
First, the membership : a broad consensus is gradually emerging among EU member states on inviting all current candidate countries for accession and extending the invitation to the members of the European Economic Area. But that option leaves open the sensitive case of likewise inviting UK and Turkey. There is a paradox here as Britain would be positively accepted by all Union members but seems reluctant to come while Turkey would be willing to join the group but raises concern in many EU quarters. At the time of this writing, it looks like the jury is still out.
Then, the organisation and functioning of the new entity : here again, agreement seems to prevail on a largely informal forum, meeting twice a year in the margins of the European Council sessions and with no permanent administrative structure. But this assumption does not alleviate the concern of those Union members that fear such a large size gathering cannot live on without progressively setting up its own bureaucracy at the risk of morphing into a substitute to the enlargement process.
Lastly, the themes to be discussed at the EPC : exchanges so far between EU partners are favouring an agenda mainly focused on security on one side and, on the other, sectoral cooperation on issues like climate, energy, agriculture, transport infrastructures, public health or education. But then the question arises of the added value of this new organisation : if the EPC is not to be seen as duplicating NATO or the OSCE, and if the overall enlargement process is carried on by the EU with the addition, as proposed in recent debates, of new policies and instruments dedicated to assist more efficiently the candidate countries on their way to Brussels, what is left to this new entity ?
This question will probably be the main issue for the nascent EPC to solve. As a matter of finding its own identity, the new forum will offer all soon-to-be members an opportunity to decide between several options : a platform for an open political dialogue on an equal footing; a place to promote the same conception of the rule of law; a space to assist the gradual integration of countries applying to the EU; finally, the meeting place where European nations can discuss security in Europe at the time of the Ukrainian conflict with Russia being purposefully left out of the room. Here lies perhaps the real reason behind the goodwill shown so far among all future participants in letting the EPC move ahead, namely an emerging awareness of the need to establish an open political space where they can start engaging the indispensable conversation on the future of European stability.