The war in Ukraine and the consequent energy crisis in Europe has changed the international order, prompting world leaders to put forth proposals for new mechanisms to advance their security agendas. French President Emmanuel Macron pitched the idea for a ‘European Political Community’ (EPC) to the European Parliament on the 9th of May 2022. The EPC would be an informal platform fostering discussion and cooperation between EU and non-EU nations. Areas of cooperation would include political and security coordination, energy management, and the free movement of people.
The inaugural meeting of the EPC was held on the 6th of October 2022 in Prague, with fourty-four countries participating. The structure of the meeting was informal, reiterating that there is no intention to institutionalise the EPC. The meeting also served as an opportunity to clarify practical matters, such as participation in the EPC and its aims. The meeting consisted of plenary sessions, with roundtables and bilateral meetings taking place on the margins. The leaders developed a list of priorities including the protection of natural gas infrastructure, the combat of cyber attacks, and the development of a joint energy strategy.
Surprising for many was the unexpected sideline negotiation of Azerbaijan and Armenia, which seemed to ease tensions between the two as they agreed to cooperate in a common mission. The meeting also appeared to be a stepping-stone for the restoration of UK-France relations. Prime Minister Truss and President Macron announced their intention to continue UK-France summits during a joint statement. It was also an opportunity to communicate European support for Ukraine. Despite all of these fruitful negotiations, there are still practical issues that are yet to be resolved, such as the EPC’s financing.
President Macron was prompted to propose the EPC after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Following Russia’s first attack, Ukraine became an EU candidate country. However, after being granted EU candidate status it usually takes a decade for a country to officially join the EU. While there are already functioning alternatives to EU membership, such as the European Economic Area for countries such as Norway or the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, Russia's mass violation of human rights in Ukraine required a different scale of aid. The EPC could provide the political support necessary to overcome the challenges caused by the war.
Macron has emphasised that the EPC does not represent an attempt to replace the conventional accession process. Instead, countries waiting to receive their EU membership status, such as Moldova, would still be able to contribute to the collective decisions affecting Europe through the EPC. Specifically, the proposal allows nations to develop strategies to reinforce security and to withstand energy crisis costs. The EPC is also open to countries that wish to reconnect with the EU, such as the UK or Switzerland.
Despite the positive message of unity marked by all forty-four heads of state attending the meeting, observers have questioned whether these meetings will yield action and reform or merely generate publicity. As it is an intergovernmental forum, the actual work of turning dialogue into policy rests within the governments of participant nations. There is also the possibility that the EPC will simply imitate already established EU institutions.
This is why it is crucial that apart from maintaining the informal structure, there should also be other characteristics differentiating it from the other institutions. The EPC should operate in a soft-law agreement manner and dismiss the concept of vetoes, something which has long been impeding the EU from passing resolute legislation. Furthermore, it is vital that practical details such as the EPC's membership requirements and relationship to the EU are specified; the EPC should be seen as separate from the EU but still maintain close relations with institutions.
Ultimately, the success of the proposal will depend on how each country implements it. With the rise of the extreme right in France, Macron’s second presidency will face more obstacles to international cooperation. Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed his support for the EPC, but Germany has yet to confidently assume its role as a European leader in foreign policy matters. Italy’s far-right election results in September raises further questions about the extent to which their government will endorse the EPC. Finally, the lack of a decisive approach towards the EU under a post-Brexit Conservative government complicates the UK's involvement as well. Nevertheless, the EPC provides the unique opportunity for nations to interact in a context that would not have been possible otherwise.
There is no doubt that the EPC is still a very novel proposition and its effectiveness to resolve the current challenges faced by Europe cannot yet be evaluated. However, the first meeting brought some positive outcomes with the reconciliation of Azerbaijan-Armenia and UK-France relations. The EPC also has the potential to alleviate the growth problems faced by the EU. Finally, with the diminishing role of NATO in Europe, the EU could finally prove its defensive competence through the EPC.