Forty-four European leaders, all the current and candidate EU member-states, the whole of geographical Europe and its neighborhood to the east, as far as Armenia and Azerbaijan. The European Political Community (EPoC) Summit was an important event, at the level of symbolism if nothing else. And beyond that?
President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative seeks to consolidate the EU’s position as the political and normative center of historical and geographical Europe. A similar structure for a European Confederation was proposed by President Francois Mitterrand on 31/12/1989, but the idea didn’t fly beyond 1991. Three decades later, France remains unwilling to accept enlargements that weaken the cohesion and political core of the EU, while keen to avoid the reputational cost of being seen to block new members. Even Germany, a long-time supporter of eastern enlargement, acknowledges that there’s a problem. In his “Future of Europe” speech from Prague, Chancellor Olaf Scholz described a future EU of 36 member-states, but not without prior reform of both the institutions and the unanimity rule.
There they are: two fundamental European deadlocks. Enlargement (the Western Balkans followed by Ukraine-Moldova) is coming up against internal resistance, though no one is willing to table their objections openly. And there is still insufficient support in the European Council for a revision of the Treaties or transition to qualified majority voting. Both enlargement and institutional reform require unanimity, which does not exist. Given these two key European deadlocks – deepening and enlargement – the EPoC represents a way out and forward.
The EPoC seeks a framework for strengthening ties with the Western Balkans and the countries in the EU’s Eastern neighborhood, with an eye on reducing “third country” influence (meaning China, Russia and Turkey). Needless to say, however, if the candidate countries perceive the EPoC as a substitute for full integration, they will refuse to participate. This is also why the EPoC could serve as an EU antechamber, allowing for the staged accession of candidate countries, which could become increasingly involved in supranational governance structures in specific areas of cooperation. Like the Schengen area, which is open to non-EU countries as well as member-states. Such a prospect would strengthen the EU, squaring the circle of its contentious enlargement process.
What else is the EPoC? A framework for structured dialogue on pan-European challenges the EU cannot tackle on its own: security, infrastructure, energy, migration. There are converging interests here that could lead to mutually beneficial collective initiatives.
The test for the EPoC will be whether it can take at least some binding decisions; if it doesn’t, it could end up being nothing more than one more high-level talking shop. With a global multilateral system paralyzed by Russia’s toxic presence on the UN Security Council, a multilateral pan-European framework is imperative. Russia and Belarus were not invited to Prague: European unity cannot be devoid of at least minimum principles, and the EU has always been a peace project.
Above all, the EPoC is a framework allowing the EU to reconnect with the United Kingdom, with which Europe (and France) have historically steered a parallel course; when the shrillest version of hard Brexit has softened, they will need each other again.
The EPoC, finally, is also a framework to keep Turkey connected to the EU. Turkey’s EU accession prospect is clinically dead, a revamped customs union is insufficiently incentivizing, and Turkey isn’t as interested in the EU as it was during the first Erdogan period. But the responsibility lies with the EU (and Greece) to devise a framework for the EU-Turkey relationship that isn’t purely transactional, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would prefer, but structured and based on rules (with consequences for breaking those rules) and incentives that will encourage Turkey to embrace it.
A framework that includes both engagement where possible, and containment where necessary. Some are ambitiously calling it a “new Helsinki,” but the difficulties are clear, especially with an Erdogan who now seems unhinged, having adopted the language of an aggressor. But any initiative that engages Turkey in a rules-based structured relationship with the EU is likely to be in both Europe’s and Greece’s best interest.https://www.ekathimerini.com/opinion/1195704/what-the-european-political-community-is-and-what-it-is-not/