Bold, new vision or just another talking shop?

The European Union (EU) loves its acronyms and now it has another to add to the list.

This one is called EPC, or the European Political Community, and you could be forgiven for admitting to not yet knowing much, if anything, about it.

It was, in fact, French President Emmanuel Macron’s idea to create the European Political Community. He suggested the initiation of such a forum in his speech at the closing event of the Future Conference in the European Parliament on 9 May 2022.

It was officially launched in the wake of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in May 2022.

The aim is to create “a new space for cooperation” and contribute to peace and security.

With the recent fresh, and particularly bloody, outbreak of violence in the Middle East most might agree that it is no bad thing to foster closer international cooperation.

But what exactly is the EPC and what can is actually hope to achieve?

According to the EPC itself the aim is to:

  • foster political dialogue and cooperation to address issues of common interest and
  • strengthen the security, stability and prosperity of the European continent.

Some mischievously suggested the EPC will replace the EU but those behind the initiative insist it is a platform for political coordination and does not replace any existing organisation, structure or process.

Nor does it aim to create new ones “at this stage.”

Its members include each of the 27 EU member states, the EU accession candidates (Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine) and the potential EU accession candidates (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo).

Others on board include Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

So far, the European Political Community has met three times. At the first meeting, in October 2022, leaders mainly discussed peace and security issues, especially Russia’s war in Ukraine, and the energy crisis.

After the inaugural meeting in Prague the German chancellor Olaf Scholz said: “The entire European community has met here as equals to exchange views on the important issues of our time, which include security, energy supply, climate and the economy, and to expand our collaboration. Those whose voices are not often heard also came to the table. That, too, is a consequence of this era of change.”

At the following meeting in June 2023, leaders discussed joint efforts for peace and security, energy resilience and connectivity and mobility in Europe.

The third meeting took place recently in Granada, Spain where no less than 44 heads of state and government took part. The event was also attended by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola.

Leaders discussed the broader strategy for the EU as well as the bloc’s enlargement.

But both the meeting and the EPC general have, so far, met with a mixed response.

Even Europhiles are lukewarm.

Take, for example, Claude Moraes a former Member of the European Parliament and Chair of the European Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee.

Speaking to this website, the British politician said the recent EPC “summit” in southern Spain was “a failure waiting to happen.”

Moraes added, “Because it was “informal” it was guaranteed not to make significant decisions or any decisions at all. 

“On the key issues – enlargement and Ukraine and migration and on the elephants in the room – climate, the energy crisis and European cost of living crisis – the summit actually worked to increase divisions.

“A good example of the indiscipline of the summit were the substantial ‘side discussions’ on migration.”

Moraes asserts that “solutions at EU level will need broad consensus but the summit allowed the far right PM Giorgia Meloni (the Italian PM) to continue her international efforts to implement a hard line domestic promise on stopping migration and to gather allies for her vision.”

On Ukraine and enlargement, he says “an unwieldy ‘informal’ summit served only to showcase divisions between EU member states driven either by fears of Russia on the one hand, those proposing a more neutral attitude towards Russia (for example, Hungary and Poland) and those European Union Member States worried about the major economic implications of an accession of Ukraine to membership of the EU”.

It is a less than ringing endorsement for President Macron’s pet project.

At the EPC’s recent get-together, in Granada, leaders clashed with Hungary after the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, backed by Poland, insisted that it would not support proposed laws to deal with migration. Instead they adopted a “Granada declaration” on other issues including the overall strategy for the bloc in coming years, with the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, issuing a separate “president’s statement” reaffirming the EU’s commitment to the proposed laws on migration.

Another former senior UK MEP, Andrew Duff, echoes Moraes’ concerns, saying that the EPC “as conceived by Macron was to be under the aegis of the EU.”

But he says the UK – a member of the EPC if no longer the EU – “takes the opposite view.”

Worth noting that responsibility for hosting the next meeting of the EPC (it will meet two-three times per year) now passes from Spain to the UK.

Duff, a renowned expert when it comes to constitutional affairs, says, “So, in these circumstances, the EPC experiment was always going to fail to deliver concrete results.”

He goes on, “I suspect that Ursula von der Leyen, if she has a second term as European Commission President, will take a grip on the whole show.”

His verdict? “The conference will become an unfashionable talking shop involving the UK and Azerbaijan – but will not be part of the decision-making process of the European Union.”

Denis Macshane who served as Europe Minister in the UK under Tony Blair’s premiership, is also less than impressed,saying the EPC “is just a talking shop to let the Prime Ministers of Albania, North Macedonia and Kosovo, which could easily join the EU along with more problematic states like Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, to sit with EU government heads and feel part of the show.”

Some might find it curious that the UK has signed up to the new EPC but they do not include MacShane.

When the EPC was first announced Macshane urged the UK to join “as it would be a modest reconnect after Brexit.”

He told this site, “To my surprise Liz Truss (then UK Premier) did so and Sunak has clearly been persuaded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to stay on.”

Despite some reservations,David McAllister, a centre-right Member of the European parliament, is far more optimistic, saying the EPC offers real “long-term benefits for everyone involved.

The German MEP, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said the forum provides “another opportunity” for informal exchange between “vital” players, in times of several serious conflicts in Ukraine, across the Western Balkans and the Caucasus.”

It gives leaders  the  “time to openly exchange views without the added pressure of an extensive agenda or the need to publish a final communiqué.”

The MEP added, “The opportunity to engage with a wider range of partners than usual can offer serious long-term benefits for everyone involved.”

The third meeting of the EPC also “underlined the potentially crucial role” the forum could play with regard to EU enlargement.

Heads of government sent an “implicit, yet clear” signal that the European Union wants to grow, he believes.

Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova and Ukraine all, says McAllister, have a serious prospect of eventually becoming EU member states.

“Before this happens, however, serious reforms are needed on both sides: The candidate countries must make themselves fit for the EU and the EU must make its institutions fit for new member states.”

He believes the EPC is “no alternative” to EU membership and “nor can it become a waiting room for aspiring members.”

Many agree that the EU could do with an injection of fresh and innovative ideas to take it through the still-choppy post-Brexit waters. Whether the European Political Community can provide such impetus remains to be seen.

Martin Banks
Martin Banks
Martin Banks, aged 63, is an experienced British-born journalist who has been covering the EU beat (and much else besides) in Brussels since 2001.Previously, he had worked for many years in regional journalism in the UK, including as chief reporter at his last paper there, and freelanced for national titles for several years, notably the Daily Telegraph. He has a keen interest in foreign affairs/geo-politics and has closely followed the workings of the European Parliament and MEPs in particular for many years. He has built up, since arriving in Brussels in 2001, a wide and reliable network of contacts, not just in politics but across the spectrum. He's also experienced in subbing, proofing, commissioning and editing and has also had stints on news desks.