Area for dialogue or photograph alternative? –


Europe’s latest discussion board will want momentum to deliver concrete outcomes for member states, with a number of potential eventualities for its future, writes Sir Michael Leigh.

Sir Michael Leigh, former EU official answerable for EU enlargement, teaches at Johns Hopkins College (SAIS) in Bologna. An extended model of this text appeared within the GIS web site

With the European Political Neighborhood, a brand new intergovernmental grouping of 44 nations joined the continent’s crowded diplomatic scene in October in a present of solidarity after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Its identify, urged by French President Emmanuel Macron, evokes the early days of the European Union. However will it’s a step towards EU membership for Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkans? A framework for dialogue with the UK and different exterior states?

President Macron has argued that the EU wants a brand new strategy to have interaction with different European states moreover its faltering Neighborhood Coverage and enlargement course of. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has insisted that the EU should streamline its decision-making earlier than increasing; in any other case, a physique with as much as 36 members can be dysfunctional.

The yearlong “Convention on the Way forward for Europe,” sponsored by France, failed to plot options. Macron’s proposed constitutional conference to rewrite the EU’s founding treaties didn’t materialise, with Europe gripped by warfare, provide shocks and inflation.

As an alternative adapting an earlier French mannequin, Macron introduced the EPC as a brand new construction, embracing all European nations besides Russia and Belarus. This might ship a message of unity, he claimed, towards a backdrop of Russian aggression and a precarious American dedication to European safety.

For EU candidates, it could be a bridge to membership; for different European states, it could reinforce diplomatic, political, and financial ties. The UK’s (initially hesitant) participation can be a big first step towards post-Brexit cooperation. Macron anticipated the EPC to supply not solely dialogue but in addition initiatives with tangible advantages in areas like safety and power.

The EPC’s inaugural summit, organised by the Czech EU Council presidency, met in Prague on 6 October, with 44 nations attending. These included 27 EU members, 10 EU candidates and potential candidates (together with Turkey), three European Financial Space states (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), Switzerland, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the UK. The EU Fee and Council presidents have been additionally current, whereas Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the summit from Kyiv.

Roundtables centered on peace and safety, local weather change and power, migration and the economic system. The Prague summit’s pragmatic strategy was broadly welcomed. Additional conferences have been scheduled for spring 2023 in Moldova and later in Spain and the UK. The absence of preconditions or stress to agree on “frequent ideas” was reassuring for some nationwide leaders. However this flexibility raised questions in regards to the EPC’s precise worth in comparison with the Council of Europe, which has an almost similar membership. Can it obtain concrete outcomes with such numerous participation and a bare-bones construction?

Lean establishment

By design, the EPC has no secretariat, monetary assets or workers. EPC summit and roundtable agendas will probably be set by a number nation that alternates between EU and non-EU members. The European Fee appears the obvious physique to offer continuity between summit conferences. This may appear pure, because the 27 EU members type many of the EPC, and the EU’s prime two officers take part in its conferences.

However the Prague session moved away from this mannequin, with vital roles rising for the UK and different nations not thinking about EU membership. The Czech Republic even urged that Israel be invited, which was not taken up.

Membership of democracies?

In a Could speech launching the EPC in Strasbourg, Macron referred to as for bringing collectively “democratic European nations that subscribe to our shared core values.” But the European Neighborhood Coverage has demonstrated the futility of a box-ticking train that expects nations to enroll to values they don’t uphold in apply. This typically results in accusations of unhealthy religion. A number of EPC individuals within the southern Caucasus, jap Europe and the Balkans – together with Turkey and, certainly, EU members themselves – don’t stay as much as supposed European requirements. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Serbia and Turkey preserve shut hyperlinks with Russia.

Dangers and uncertainties

The chief danger related to the EPC is that it turns into a speaking store with no tangible outcomes. Secondly, the EPC could also be seen in jap Europe as a diversion from EU membership, not as a stepping stone. This might take away incentives to take part within the new discussion board actively and will weaken belief.

Lastly, the EPC could also be perceived within the Kremlin as a method of taunting Russian President Vladimir Putin – particularly given the involvement of nations seen by Moscow as inside its sphere of affect. Forward of the Prague summit, French representatives denied that the EPC was an anti-Russian initiative.

Confronted with such uncertainties, the EPC could evolve alongside totally different paths:

Picture alternative

Underneath this state of affairs, Europe’s pressing safety and financial challenges lose the summit’s preliminary momentum. Participation at future gatherings is half-hearted and more and more with appearances by ministers and senior officers as a substitute of heads of presidency. Roundtable and plenary discussions change into desultory. No working teams convene between summits, and sherpas meet not often. Step by step, they change into much less frequent.

The European Fee is discouraged from placing ahead joint initiatives, however no different entity emerges to tackle these duties. Finally, some minor environmental and tourism initiatives are recognized to be loosely coordinated by nationwide ministries.

An insistence by a number of EU nations on respecting European values and aligning with the EU’s international coverage alienates a number of individuals; Moscow presents them incentives to withdraw.

Fledgling discussion board

Underneath this state of affairs, the EPC turns into broadly accepted as the one common top-level, Europe-wide discussion board with all members on a standard footing. In its first two years, the EPC holds 4 summits and develops a lean governance construction, together with an impartial secretariat, well-defined areas of cooperation, and a price range contributed proportionately by its members.

It meets twice yearly on the summit stage underneath a rotating presidency, alternating between EU and non-EU hosts, and units up working teams in agreed precedence areas. These generate collective safety, power, local weather, infrastructure and migration initiatives. Initiatives are coordinated by nationwide ministries.

Shared assessments of threats to European safety are made. The EPC helps mobilise and coordinate assist for the postwar reconstruction of Ukraine. It gives a setting the place the UK and different nations not aspiring to EU membership can have interaction with EU companions. Britain hosts the fourth summit assembly, branded because the UK-European Cooperation Discussion board.

If France and Germany, nonetheless indispensable brokers of change in Europe, resume their common cooperation and discover a frequent curiosity in sustaining the EPC, this initiative would have a future as the one top-level, pan-European discussion board for normal dialogue.

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