This piece is authored by Agathe Gauthier, Consultant at Havas Paris and H/Advisors coordinator, who is participating in the H/Advisors Exchange programme. This initiative enables consultants to spend one month working inside other agencies within our global network, to help broaden our connections and to expand our international insights.
As part of this initiative, H/Advisors Cicero staff will spend time working in Paris and Washington DC. In addition to Agathe, we will also be welcoming a colleague from the H/Advisors Abernathy team from San Francisco to spend a month working in London.
The first meeting of the European Political Community (EPC) was held last week in Prague, Czech Republic. A total of 44 countries, including all 27 EU Member States, were represented. The Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, was the only head of government not present.
The French President, Emmanuel Macron, had called for the creation of the EPC on 9 May earlier this year to mark Europe Day as part of the rotating six-month Presidency of the European Council held at the time by France, and three months after the start of the Russian invasion in Ukraine. Upon his arrival at Prague Castle, he stressed that it was an “important moment” to send “a message of unity (…) for all Europeans, whether or not they are members of the EU”. The EPC’s aim? To “build a common strategy” and to launch a “strategic conversation that did not really exist [until then] and could lead to divisions”.
In his own introduction, the Czech Prime Minister, Petr Fiala – who assumed the current Presidency of the Council from Macron himself – greeted a much broader audience than the usual EU spectrum: with leaders joining from the six Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia), the United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland, Moldova, Iceland, Georgia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein as well as Ukraine (with Volodymyr Zelensky speaking via video conference at the start of the session). He did not shy away from the “many difficult problems” the community faces, “the most serious” being that Europe is “undergoing an aggressive war”. In this context, he branded the EPC as a “forum for an informal exchange of views on current events in Europe and beyond”, a space “flexible enough” for “all European democratic countries to feel comfortable”. He cited the need to have “honest discussions on subjects of common interest, but also on less consensual topics” – peace and security, inflation and high energy prices, and the “dependence” on “imported resources” which threatens security.
Macron cited six areas of potential future common work for the EPC:
The underlying aim of this first EPC meeting was also to provide both a show of unity in condemning the escalating Russian aggression, and an illustration of the unity of states from across the European political arena. The EPC’s next meeting will be held in Chișinău, Moldova – only 111 miles from Odessa, Ukraine – then Spain, and the UK.
Areas of focus
The EPC has no coercive power to make any decisions on the current energy crisis. However, the presence of two notable non-EU gas producers Norway and Azerbaijan suggests that dialogue could be facilitated.
The MidCat project was one of the meeting’s hot topics: a 260-kilometre pipeline linking Hostalric (north of Barcelona) to Barbaira (near Carcassonne, France) to bring Algerian gas to the EU and allow northern Europe to benefit from the Iberian Peninsula’s large regasification capacity for liquefied natural gas (LNG). In the longer term, this pipeline could also circulate green hydrogen.
Before the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the project had been shelved due to a lack of French interest, before coming back to the fore, pushed by Germany and Spain. At the summit, Macron questioned the relevance of building a project that would take “five to eight years” to complete and insisted on his current priority: ensuring the stability of electricity interconnections in Europe. With Germany and Spain also strongly at odds over MidCat, this specific case perfectly illustrates how EU countries intently wish to maintain the image of a united front against Russia, whilst increasingly exposing their differing opinions on just how to manage the current energy crisis.
Over the past five years, UK-French relations had degraded as events over Brexit, AUKUS, migration and common fisheries reduced political unity between the two states. The EPC meeting potentially marked a turning point as Macron welcomed the UK’s participation: “I hope that this is a new phase in our common relationship. We want to work together for the unity of our continent, especially in these very difficult times.” In the evening, a joint communiqué between France and the United Kingdom was published, in which Macron and UK Prime Minister Liz Truss underlined their determination to provide Ukraine with all the support necessary to enable it to restore its sovereignty and territorial integrity and to resist Russian aggression, as well as their determination to hold Russia accountable for its actions.
They also recalled “the close and long-standing ties between their two countries” and agreed “to hold the next Franco-British Summit in France in 2023 to take forward a renewed bilateral agenda” – the first such Summit since 2018. This bilateral reset is both strategic – France and the UK are the two largest military and nuclear powers in Europe – and a political win, helping Macron assert his position as Europe’s post-Merkel natural leader and offering Truss the opportunity to build a key diplomatic relationship.
For the UK, the EPC could lead to a closer alignment on defence and energy policy, leading to a kind of “proto-institutional” cooperation between the UK and the EU. Both sides could also review the Trade and Cooperation Agreement – scheduled for 2026 – and smooth out its edges, for example by allowing Britons to travel briefly to the EU for work without a visa (with EU citizens enjoying reciprocal rights). Truss was also guaranteed by the Czech Republic that it would push forward the issue of the UK’s rejoining of the North Seas Energy Cooperation group on renewable energy for approval to fellow EU members in the coming weeks.
In Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, the announcement of the EPC project had raised fears that it would create a perpetual EU antechamber for accession countries. The EPC does allow them a form of European integration, at least politically and diplomatically, in which they can focus on gaining the EU members’ goodwill before ticking all of the accession boxes (the “acquis communautaire”).
Sticking out among the crowd, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was urged by Macron to finally stop “circumventing” sanctions against Russia. He also expressed his “concern” about the situation in the Aegean Sea, the scene of recurring tensions between Greece and Turkey – who are both NATO allies, calling for the “resumption of dialogue between the parties to avoid escalation and preserve respect for international law”.
Turkey, which is heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas, refused to join the Western sanctions against Russia and continues to rely on their strategic relationship with Russia to build its first ever nuclear power plant. The country also remains a popular destination for Russian citizens and has seen thousands arrive since the beginning of the war. The participation of “fringe” leaders like Erdogan is in itself a victory for the EPC, and a recognition by the EU that it needs to engage with those states outside of Brussels’ sphere of influence to address the region’s most pressing issues.
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