What difference can the European Political Community make?

On 6 and 7 October, the first European Political Community event will take place in Prague. The meeting will host 44 leaders of European countries including Britain, Turkey, Norway and Ukraine, and its agenda is unspecified. Sceptics point to the past failed attempts to bring about more political unity on the continent beyond the EU.

However, should Britain confirm rumours to host the next summit, the EPC could become a key instrument in London’s European policy after Brexit. Without Russia on board, Europe does indeed need a new security architecture, which became a powerful driver for new forms of integration on the continent as explained in the United European Patchwork scenario from the most recent foresight report by Visegrad Insight.

Art: Pawel Kuczynski © Visegrad Insight, War and the Future of Europe report, September 2022

Therefore, we ask several European policy experts the question:

What difference can the European Political Community make?

Kristof Bender — deputy chairman of the European Stability Initiative (ESI) and Europe’s Futures fellow at the IWM Vienna:

The success of the EPC is more likely if the initiators offer a few concrete ideas. Here are two suggestions: Increased engagement with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the West-Balkan-6, including on energy and security, is best achieved through a meritocratic EU accession process.

However, calls for EU reform before any further enlargement and proliferating bilateral vetoes have broken this process. It could be revived by establishing a credible, reachable interim goal. This could be achieved by all EU members declaring that European democracies, once they met the demanding conditions, could join the European Single Market, with full membership following once the EU is prepared for more members.

Another meaningful initiative would be to commit to the quick admission of Kosovo to the Council of Europe. Kosovo is the only European democracy not yet part of this institution. Its accession would signal respect for democracy and for territorial integrity.

Valbona Zeneli, Ph.D. — Chair of the Strategic Initiatives Department, George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Europe’s Futures Fellow at the IWM Vienna

Any platform that strengthens the European community is a good idea. To have teeth, it should have a clear strategy with measurable deliverables. A forum that brings together EU member states and candidate countries should look at new ways to strengthen political, economic, and security cooperation among democratic nations.
This is all the more important in light of the new security environment in Europe. Russia’s unjustified war in Ukraine and its disruptive actions, China’s assertive economic behaviour, the global pandemic, the crushing energy crisis and economic downturn, the climate emergency, the technological revolution, rising nationalism and receding democracy all around the world require bold European engagement in international affairs.
This should be done by working together as democratic members of a European family in the framework of the transatlantic community. This platform should also serve as a catalyser for speeding up the EU integration process for the candidate and aspirant countries. They should become part of European solutions on important security issues. On the other hand, conditionality on alignment with the EU on foreign and security policy issues should be elevated to an equal footing with fundamentals in the enlargement process.

Jiří Schneider — Former Czech Diplomat, Visegrad Insight Senior Fellow

If not overloaded with unrealistic ambitions, a European Political Community could serve as a modest response to the Russian onslaught on the European security architecture that left existing institutions like the OSCE useless. It could foster and upgrade EU’s neighbourhood policies and make accession of candidate states more feasible in the near future.

However, since there is no unity even among EU members, it is difficult to assume EPC could establish a common ground in a much broader and diverse group of states. It could end up as previous grand-design projects, as an empty political gesture with no impact on European security. Quite a challenge for the Czech EU Presidency.

Aaron Korewa — Director, Atlantic Council Warsaw Office

The European Political Community needs to understand that in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, Europe faces the most serious challenge to its security, prosperity, and long-term future in general since World War II. With its illegal annexations, Russia has engaged in revisionism not seen since the days of the Axis powers. Europe must act accordingly. That means forget about the squabbles post-Brexit and partner with Britain since it will remain a vital security provider.

Ukraine must hear that its path towards full European integration has broad support. Finally, as far as security architecture is concerned, it should be made clear to Russia that it won’t be welcome back into any such European community until it shows that it is invested in common security.

Kerry Longhurst — Jean Monnet Professor at Collegium Civitas and a Visiting Professor at the College of Europe

Though it is easy to suggest that the EPC will be another creamy layer of European (in)decision-making, several positive differences could transpire.

First, is its potential to recalibrate UK-EU relations, which remain bruised and dysfunctional. Liz Truss seems positively disposed to the initiative, which comes as no surprise, afterall, she was a strong remainer in the Brexit campaign and as PM she realises that fresh anchorage is needed for a calmer and mutually beneficial EU-UK relationship. EPC also implies opportunities for UK leadership in certain domains, which should mollify Brexiteers.

Second, as a 44-country pan-European endeavour, EPC has potential to help European states formulate joint, or at least complementary, solutions to common problems, which is in the UK’s interest and in line with its strong preference for intergovernmentalism. Blurring the distinction between EU and non-EU states on policies and strategies on critical issues like energy, migration and climate will benefit all and enhance Europe’s place in the world in ways palatable to the UK.

Third, EPC has potential as a lifeline for remainers across the UK seeking a return to the EU at some point in the future. EPC resonates as a ‘re-opening’ of the door towards a less confrontational relationship between Brussels and London, which is roundly welcomed by remainers.

Finally, EPC can positively impact the enlargement process to the Western Balkans, as well as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. The route to EU membership is long and bumpy, even when strong political will exists, thus it stands to reason that the experience of working together to forge common positions with EU member states within EPC, will build confidence to the benefit of the candidates and their EU membership aspirations. Though itself no longer an EU member, a stable neighbourhood tied to the notion of a ‘wider Europe’ does not contradict UK interests, as long as it doesn’t step on NATO’s toes.

Wojciech Przybylski — Editor-in-Chief, Visegrad Insight, presiding the board of Res Publica Foundation and Europe’s Futures Fellow at IWM

Regardless of how the first EPC meeting will be perceived, it signifies a strong drive for more political cohesion on the continent. The willingness of the most unlikely partners to come on board of a political forum to discuss European affairs is driven primarily by the need for a new security arrangement, as we explain in the United European Patchwork scenario.

The political — and not merely an institutional forum — for Europe should primarily consider how to become more autonomous from dependencies on aggressive autocratic powers that undermine Europe’s competitiveness and stability.

Natalia Stercul — Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Association of the Republic of Moldova

Rising authoritarianism has contributed to a context that has made the unprovoked Russian full-scale war against Ukraine possible. Coupled with gradual democratic erosion around the world, an exceptional threat is being posed to the rules-based global order, European security architecture, as well as to peace and stability in contemporary conditions.

Taking the current exercising of realpolitik, the continent needs more political unity, which can be provided by the European Political Community as a unique platform for political dialogue between political leaders of European democracies.

The EPC is a timely development that can give common unity and solidarity on the European continent beyond the EU, including the neighbourhood countries and more consolidation in integration policies for the continuation of the European project with stronger common security, political and social drivers for its future development.

Today, more than ever before, European democracies need to establish a solidarity-based political platform, allowing all European countries and their neighbours to be integrated into maintaining peace and security.

Sergiy Gerasymchuk — Deputy  Executive Director at Ukrainian Prism

The idea of the EPC is perceived in Ukraine with certain cautiousness. Officials in Kyiv believe that it can become a substitute for EU membership and that is an unacceptable scenario for Ukraine. However, apart from these concerns, there is an interest in the format. Prior to its launching, the idea of the European Security Council was discussed in expert circles.

On a large scale, the EPC idea corresponds with the European Security Council since it brings Britain back to the policy-making processes of the EU, at least in a security domain. Alongside, the elaboration of the first German National Security Strategy that can be an asset for strengthening European security. Also, bringing on board candidate states e.g. Ukraine will be helpful for understanding and tackling the political challenges and security threats on the Eastern borders of the EU.

Bounce killing link to the executive summary that says: Read more on Scenario 2: European Patchwork for more on bringing Britain back to the policy-making process of the EU.

Radu Albu-Comanescu — Visegrad Insight Fellow. Lecturer in European Integration at the ‘Babeş-Bolyai’ University of Cluj-Napoca

Too little, I’d say, and a missed opportunity for mature cooperation; the European Political Community will become a source of European division. It must be taken prudently.

It is a recycled idea, based on the 1991 European Confederation project of Mitterrand. Just like the original, Macron’s initiative raises questions about its true objective: is it built to help the EU shape its immediate geopolitical environment, or destined to be a waiting-room ‘ad aeternum’ for countries that French and Western electorates do not wish to accept in the EU?

Eastern Flank states tempted to support it should remember that EPC is supposed to include, ‘one day,’ Russia; and how much will Paris-Berlin accept Britain’s powerful influence in Europe’s east? There will be meetings and speeches, with some countries investing in the EPC until others will turn against it as it would have ceased serving their national interest. Division will ensue.

Richard Giragosian—Founding Director of the Regional Studies Center (RSC), an independent think tank in Yerevan, Armenia

The European Political Community is facing an important milestone, driven by the need to be more strategically relevant and defined by the necessity for political unity.

Yet the looming Prague summit offers a unique chance for the European Political Community opportunity to meet expectations and be taken more seriously.  There is a degree of justified optimism, however, as there has already been a more robust and assertive European engagement.

This is also evident in the recognition that in response to the war in Ukraine and in reaction to Azerbaijan’s attack on Armenia, Europe’s actions are for the first time matching its aspiration. But what is needed next is discipline, based on the imposition of penalties and liabilities for moves that undermine unity within Europe.

Bad behaviour should no longer be tolerated, and false equivalencies must no longer be applied.

Picture: European Council / Press Conference ©European Union