On Thursday, October 6th, 44 European leaders met in Prague to launch a new political community dedicated to addressing the continent’s challenges. Seventeen non-EU heads of state were present; Russia and Belarus were not granted the privilege.
After the war in Ukraine commenced, and its ‘dramatic consequences’ began to be felt in the world, a European Council meeting last June decided to embark upon a new project: the European Political Community. The idea goes back to May, when French president Emmanuel Macron first floated the idea during the Conference on the Future of Europe.
While it is billed as an opportunity to “bring leaders together on the European continent” and to “foster their cooperation on issues of common interest,” such as energy, economy, migration, and climate, it is not intended to replace existing EU policies and instruments.
Just before the summit kicked off, European Council President Charles Michel emphasized the extreme importance of the meeting, while expressing optimism over the fact that all 44 countries which were invited decided to participate. He went on to hail the initiative as the “occasion to address how we can try to improve cooperation and coordination” on a range of issues, as they “share the same continent” and “face the same challenges.”
While this showing of goodwill is impressive, together the invitees constituted somewhat of a motley crew. With all EU member states (flanked by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel), six Western Balkans countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia), five Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, and the UK present, diplomatic faux pas were ill-afforded.
The presence of two attendants, Turkey and Azerbaijan, stirred considerable controversy within the ranks. Speaking to Euronews, an anonymous EU official explained that “many leaders are insisting on values” (something Turkey’s Erdoğan has been accused of flaunting), and that adherence to the international order and rule of law (breached by Azerbaijan’s bombing of Armenia) should be a prerequisite for participating—a matter, the official added, that was sure to be brought up during the closing plenary session.
Making use of the occasion, Macron and Michel held a quadrilateral meeting with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan in an attempt to bring recent hostilities between them to an end.
Before all 44 leaders could gather in smaller groups to discuss the economic situation, energy, climate, migration, and mobility, and attend various bilateral meetings however, they were addressed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by video link.
He called the newly erected format “an extremely powerful opportunity to restore peace in Europe,” as he urged them “to make a basic decision,” hoping that “we, the leaders of Europe, can become the leaders of peace. Our European political community can become a European community of peace.”
Yet, while peace—in light of the war in Ukraine—did its part in dominating the leaders’ discussions, the energy crisis has become of increasing concern as winter approaches.
Indeed, on this issue the next day, October 7th, all 27 EU countries were slated to hold their own meeting after their non-EU counterparts left Prague Castle, the venue hosting the summit. It was then that the united front the EU leaders had been eager to project would see its first real stress test.
According to Politico, French President Emmanuel Macron might have jumped the gun a day earlier, when he dismissed an energy project that some had designated an important solution to the EU’s energy problems—the extensive Midcat pipeline, yet to be built, which would connect Spain to Germany and the rest of Europe.
Macron told reporters it would take “five to eight years” to build as he argued for “electricity interconnections” which he was more favorable towards. Instead, he proposed that Europe’s future lies in renewables and nuclear power—the latter, unsurprisingly, being one of France’s main bargaining chips in the energy field.
On this issue, Macron is expected to face tough opposition from Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who had just come back from Spain where he discussed the project with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday.
“MidCat could connect the Iberian Peninsula and Central Europe for the future transport of hydrogen. I am expressly advocating that we create this connection,” Scholz had told reporters.
Careful to avoid coming to blows with French interests, Scholz said that Berlin and Madrid wanted to build the pipeline “in friendship and cooperation with France, and we don’t have the impression that that is out of the question.” The Germans are more optimistic about the short-term viability of this pipeline, as they said the pipeline could be ready within nine months and up and running next year already. To Spain, the pipeline would be a boon, as it could serve as its main means of exporting its green hydrogen.
At the summit’s close, European Council President Charles Michel deemed it a success, as he said that
At a time when Europe’s stability and security are being threatened, we need more dialogue, more listening, more mutual understanding, not less. And that’s what we achieved at the first European Political Community.
Whether this new format will indeed become a ‘United Nations in Europe,’ so dubbed by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda, remains to be seen. As of now, it bears the hallmarks of the latest talk shop, the written outcome of which, as its own statement informs us, should not be expected, as it is not “envisaged.”
At an as-of-yet undisclosed time, Michel and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala are expected to hold a press conference.