Leaders from 44 European countries will gather in Prague on Thursday to launch a European political community aimed at boosting security and economic prosperity. Critics say the new forum is an attempt to slow EU enlargement.
The meeting in the Czech capital is the idea of French President Emmanuel Macron, with the support of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
The summit at Prague Castle will involve a series of meetings on the main challenges facing Europe: security, energy, climate, the economic situation and migration.
Launching the idea for the European Political Community, Macron said it “would allow democratic European nations … to find a new space for political cooperation, security, energy, transport, investment, infrastructure, the movement of people”.
Macron advocates the creation of a “European political community” outside the bloc
Brussels has hailed the initiative as an invaluable “platform for political coordination” among the disparate grouping of 44 invited nations.
But there are deep divisions, and even open conflict, among some of those taking part, and there is skepticism that the one-day event will be much more than a glorified photo opportunity.
Russia, which is not invited, will overshadow the meeting as discussions focus on the economic and security effects of the war against its pro-Western neighbour.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is currently at war with Moscow, will connect via video link from Kyiv. His prime minister will represent him at the talks.
“The ambition is to bring together leaders on equal terms and to promote political dialogue and cooperation on matters of common interest so that we work together to strengthen the security, stability and prosperity of Europe as a whole,” says EU chief Charles Michel. said in his letter of invitation.
Those to gather in the historic Prague Castle also include the leaders of Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Georgia, Iceland, Kosovo, Lichtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Switzerland.
Within the bloc, there are questions about the usefulness of a venture some see as a vanity project for Macron, with diplomats saying powerhouse Germany had expressed reservations.
And while British Prime Minister Liz Truss will be there on one of her first major overseas trips after taking office, London was wary of the event being too dominated by the EU club and reportedly wanted to change the name from “community” to “forum”.
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The presence of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also been a sore point for EU members Greece and Cyprus, which have long-standing disputes with Ankara. The Turkish leader is also proving a headache for Sweden and Finland by halting their applications to join NATO.
Even more troubling may be the presence of the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, whose troops continue bloody clashes along their volatile border.
Those who want to join the EU – Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and the countries of the Western Balkans – can be expected to be more open to make the event a success.
But even they are wary of the format becoming a consolation prize where the EU can park its ambitions for full membership.
Council of Europe
If successful, the European Political Community could be integrated in some form into the already existing Council of Europe (CoE), a 46-member conglomerate of European nations created in 1949.
The CoE states that it was built in the same spirit as the European Coal and Steel Community, which later evolved into the European Economic Community, the forerunner of today’s EU.
The goal: to create a “Europe of peace based on the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” according to its website. The CoE became the guardian of the European Court of Justice and was responsible for the abolition of the death penalty while setting the standards for a European system based on human rights.
The CoE suspended the Russian Federation’s membership in May this year.