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Show of unity or talking shop? New European forum launches in Prague

By Fraser Raleigh
06 October 2022

By Fraser Raleigh

A new grouping entered the international arena today as the European Political Community met for the first time in Prague. The new forum stretches across the entire continent - from Iceland to Azerbaijan - and aims to broaden engagement between countries that sit in the various sections of Europe’s diplomatic Venn diagram. Prime Minister Liz Truss has joined today’s meeting, arguing that it’s right to ‘find common cause with our European friends and allies’.  

There is, however, uncertainty and scepticism about what the European Political Community is actually for, with far more emphasis on what it is not.  

For different reasons, both the UK and the EU have been keen to stress that it is not a replacement for, or a bolt on to, the European Union, despite the presence of a number of countries who have long-pushed for membership and will be keen to use the new grouping to advance their case. 

Ahead of the summit, Truss also stressed the importance of not cutting across other established international for a, such as NATO and the G7, and that it ‘must not be a talking shop’ but instead deliver on shared priorities. For Truss, these priorities are support for Ukraine, strengthening energy security and tackling illegal immigration.  

Looming over two of these priorities – and indeed the whole summit – is the country that was not invited: Russia.  

The post-Cold War hope for Russian integration into western political and diplomatic structures has long been extinguished, with relations at their lowest point for decades following the invasion of Ukraine. Where once Putin mused openly about Russia even joining NATO, now his speeches raise the prospect of tactical nuclear weapons being deployed as his army finds itself bogged down in eastern Ukraine.  

European vulnerability in both energy and technological security was also exposed further by the suspicions that Russian sabotage was behind the recent damage to the Nord Stream gas pipelines, with Truss emphasising the importance of deterring ‘any threat to underwater pipelines’. 

Can the European Political Community be a meaningful vehicle to tackle these challenges? Potentially, but it will likely take time to build trust and clarity about its remit and how it interacts with both multilateral and bilateral engagement. Today’s meeting will not produce any formal written declarations and it is not empowered to take any serious decisions, which sit within the remit of the existing international bodies that are already well established, not least NATO and the European Council, which meets the following day. 

How the new group sits in relation to the EU itself will ultimately be key. The current Conservative government will be wary of the appearance of it becoming an EU-led vehicle and the EU will be wary of any sense of mission creep into areas within its own purview.  

Yet, given the scale of the challenges, and the reality that EU enlargement has stalled in recent years, greater co-operation, dialogue and resolve in the face of growing external threats is undoubtedly in the common interest of the countries that have turned up in Prague today, despite the lingering uncertainty about exactly how their new club will operate.