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The European Political Community: From Prague to Chisinau and beyond

Future of Europe / COMMENTARY
Marta Mucznik

Date: 31/05/2023
As war still rages on the continent one year on, the European Political Community remains a geopolitical necessity. Yet, consistent follow-up, more investment, and strategic direction are needed if the EPoC stands to succeed in addressing the challenges of a new era.

On 1 June 2023, the Republic of Moldova will host the second Summit of the European Political Community (EPoC), a Europe-wide forum created to provide a continental response to Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine. 

One year after President Macron's introduction of the EPoC, the initiative still struggles to demonstrate its value. The debate still lacks clarity on the EPoC's purpose, agenda, deliverables, and structure, despite a shared consensus that its success lies in its unchoreographed nature.

Macron’s vision for the EPoC was to fill a geopolitical and geostrategic void in Europe and contribute to restoring peace and stability on the continent. The concept of a forum for informal exchanges among 47+ heads of state remains geopolitically significant. At the same time, the new security reality prompted by the war continues to justify the need for joint solutions to Europe’s most pressing issues, e.g. security, energy, migration, infrastructure, connectivity, and the war response. But for ideas to materialise, the focus should not be placed solely on the family photo at these bi-annual summits. What transpires between them is just as critical, if not more so.

This is why the success of the EPoC relies on consistent follow-up, more investment, and a clearer strategic direction.

Consistent follow-up

For the first EPoC in October 2022, 44 heads of state gathered in Prague, showcasing the forum’s potential and projecting continental unity against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Participants’ leaders floated between roundtable discussions on peace, security, climate change, energy, and the economy, exchanging informally and bilaterally about shared challenges. Some of EPoC’s outcomes unleashed positive media coverage across Europe. It successfully facilitated a meeting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which resulted in an agreement to deploy an EU civilian mission along the border. It provided an opportunity for EU-UK and especially France-UK re-engagement and after years of post-Brexit tensions, it paved the way for the first France-UK Summit to be held in a long time, and involved Türkiye in Europe-wide discussions on war responses.

At the press conference that concluded the summit, President Macron outlined an ambitious list of priorities identified by the leaders. These included a common strategy to combat Russian cybercrime, propaganda, and disinformation; an integrated strategy in the energy sector; a resilience fund for Ukraine, a common youth policy; and close collaboration in migration. But seven months later, no progress was made towards accomplishing any of these goals within the framework of EPoC, raising questions about its effectiveness without proper institutional support.  

EPoC achievements should be seen through. The upcoming summit in Chisinau will be organised around three roundtables focusing on security, energy, and connectivity. These work streams should follow up on priorities agreed upon at the Prague summit, and concrete outcomes and mechanisms should result from these discussions on countering hybrid threats, fighting disinformation, closer coordination in the energy sector, education or youth policy, and commitments in the migration field.

More investment

Turning talk into deliverables requires the participating countries to assume ownership of decisions and commit resources to realise them. Despite initial scepticism, both the UK and Germany have cautiously embraced the initiative, with the UK showing greater interest after being chosen to host the EPoC summit in a year. Transitioning the EPoC’s brand from "Macron's brainchild" to a collective endeavour with the active backing of influential countries and institutions rooted in an EU-Franco-German-British understanding is crucial to ensure its efficacy and sustainability.

To this end, and following France's example, each country should appoint a special envoy for the EPoC. These envoys should follow up on decisions, identify priorities, and coordinate specific actions. Their role is essential to maintaining momentum and ensuring progress toward the EPoC's objectives.

Initially, there was consensus that the EPoC should have no secretariat, budget, or staff to not duplicate the work of other multilateral forums. The leaders claimed the meeting alone was the main message, and its added value relied on its unscripted nature. Yet, it is precisely the lack of a clear process and governing structure that contradicts the EPoC’s stated ambition to fill Europe’s security and geopolitical void. Moreover, it is impossible to effectively develop joint approaches to restore peace and stability on the continent by solely relying on a talking shop that convenes every six months. As a result, some form of institutional support will be key to ensuring the implementation of the agreed-upon “wish lists” at each summit.   

A clearer strategic direction

Wartime expediency requires bold thinking and a common strategic vision to address the challenges resulting from the Zeitenwende.

The ongoing war and its consequences served as a wake-up call to the idea that Europe’s security focus should extend eastward. The choice of the Republic of Moldova as the venue for the second summit takes on a special meaning, a small state, under direct threat from Russia, heavily hit by the war in neighbouring Ukraine, and seeking EU membership.

The Republic of Moldova’s legacy to the European Political Community should be to provide a platform for Eastern and Western European countries to periodically review and align threat perceptions, develop a shared vision of security challenges facing wider Europe, and work towards peace and stability on the continent. Central and Eastern European countries' security perspectives should take centre stage in discussions, and efforts to align on foreign policy should persist.

The EPoC can also contribute to rethinking Europe's security architecture in ways that complement the efforts of other multilateral forums, such as the OSCE and NATO. It can do so by offering a platform to expand discussions in the EU space and other multilateral forums to other non-EU countries on pressing challenges such as sanctions coordination, sending weapons to Ukraine, countering hybrid threats, and jointly managing migration flows.  

While the EPoC should not be EU-centred, the EU must play a pivotal role in driving forward meaningful action. This does not mean migrating EU internal discussions – whether these relate to enlargement, institutional reform, or furthering EU integration – to the EPoC. Doing so would understandably alienate the UK and other non-EU countries that have no stake in the EU’s internal affairs.

Instead, it means leveraging EU resources, mechanisms, and instruments in areas where the EU has competencies and plays an active role, particularly in mitigating the geopolitical and geoeconomic consequences of the war. These could refer to foreign policy alignment, energy diversification, climate change adaptation, the green deal, and connectivity/infrastructure projects. In this respect, EPoC ministerial meetings should occur back-to-back with the relevant council formations. Concrete projects can happen under the EPoC umbrella even if resources are pulled by EU institutions or other multilateral forums.  

Currently, the prevailing view is to maintain a light and informal structure for the EPoC. However, European leaders must reckon with the inherent contradiction between their limited investments and their lofty aspirations for the community. Leaders should avoid reaching Grenada four months from now and London in a year with little to show beyond an informal “get-together” that fails to address the challenges of a new era. Prague showcased the EPoC’s potential, but Chisinau must show that the initiative can also deliver.

Marta Mucznik is a Policy Analyst in the European Politics and Institutions programme at the European Policy Centre.
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