By John Chalmers
(Reuters) – The inaugural meeting of the European Political Community (EPC) takes place in Prague on Thursday, bringing together leaders from 44 nations of the continent, including the 27 member states of the European Union.
WHAT IS THE IDEA BEHIND THE EPC?
The new pan-European grouping was an initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron, who sees it as an opportunity to structure dialogue on an equal footing between EU members and non-members on issues that confront them all.
The EPC includes several countries waiting to join the EU and the only one ever to leave the bloc, the United Kingdom, and it brings together nations on shores stretching from the Caucasus to the North Sea and the Mediterranean.
A key aim is to embrace EU candidate countries that are losing patience waiting for membership of the bloc, and in doing so counter attempts by Russia and China to gain influence in the continent’s southern and eastern fringes.
The idea is also to keep Britain, a major military power, inside a European forum following its exit from the EU.
WHAT ISSUES WILL THE EPC SUMMIT ADDRESS?
The half-day meeting at the Prague Castle will start with roundtable discussions on threats to peace and security, and on the crises Europe faces on energy, climate, the economy and immigration. The leaders will then come together in the evening over dinner to review their conclusions.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the gathering would highlight Moscow’s international isolation over the war in Ukraine, and was “a way of looking for a new order without Russia”.
No formal communique is expected after the summit.
There will be a flurry of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss’s decision to attend could facilitate a reset of ties between Brussels and London that have been frayed by post-Brexit wrangling over Northern Ireland.
WILL IT WORK AS A FORUM?
Borrell said in a blog ahead of the meeting that clarity is still needed on the EPC’s core rationale, its final membership, its relationship with the EU, how it should take decisions and even whether it should have a budget of its own.
A charter of EPC principles could ultimately be drawn up.
However, some have already written off the EPC as just another talking shop that will struggle to agree on concrete policy deliverables.
EU officials helped organise the first meeting, and while Brussels is wary that the EPC will appear like an offshoot of the bloc if it continues to take the lead, getting things done would be harder if it doesn’t.
Sceptics point out that there are just too many nations around the EPC table, several – such as Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Greece and Turkey – that are traditional rivals, and too much diversity of culture and politics to keep them united.
French officials retort that the G20 is just as diverse and manages to agree on issues such as international finance rules.
WILL THERE BE REGULAR MEETINGS OF THE EPC?
There are tentative plans to hold meetings of the EPC twice a year, and many expect Moldova or Britain to host the next ones. Future EPC meetings could be held among ministers of the member states, not just their leaders.
(Reporting by John Chalmers; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)