The war in Ukraine has resulted in significant changes made in EU policies on sanctions, energy, and defence. According to Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, it has also created a favourable environment for the emergence of a geopolitical Union, which has taken shape through, inter alia, the European Political Community (EPC). EPC, the first of its kind, aims to provide a platform for connecting the EU-27 with the other European partners on common key issues affecting the European continent. This European forum, proposed in May 2022 by the French President Emanuel Macron, became a real-time high level political event in just a matter of months as the first summit took place in Prague in October 2022.
The second EPC summit being hosted in Moldova presents a unique opportunity for the country to position itself at the center of Europe and showcase its potential as a reliable partner for the EU. While EPC has faced criticism and some have questioned whether it will prove to be just ‘hot air’ or a ‘trailblazing endeavour’, in Chisinau, the focus is on demonstrating a commitment to contributing to the security and unity of the European continent. But why should the EPC summit be so relevant and important for Moldova? And what are the strengths and weaknesses of the EPC that Moldova should take note of, and use to its advantage?
EPC: a retrospective
Following Macron’s speech about the EPC at the closing of the Conference on the Future of Europe, the concept of ‘Wider Europe’ was re-introduced into the public discourse of the EU member states during the European Council meeting in June 2022. The EU’s Wider Europe initiative, first introduced in 2003, presented a new framework for relations with Eastern and Southern neighbours, and served as the predecessor of the European Neighbourhood Policy. However, the original ‘wider Europe’ vision was characterized by unequal and hierarchical relations between the EU and its neighbours and initially included Russia. In 2022, this concept was upgraded to provide a platform for political coordination with those countries that have close relations with the EU. This upgraded version now translates into the bi-annual summits of the EPC, where Russia is included only as a topic on the agenda.
While Macron’s speech emphasized the need for this new political entity, the EPC, to help countries like Ukraine join the EU and, in this way, build a stronger democratic community of states around the EU, it is the Russian war in Ukraine that ultimately gave impetus to its creation. Discussions during the European Council meeting in June highlighted the importance of extending the EU’s internal discussion on strategic issues to other European partners. It became clear that the geopolitical and geoeconomic challenges faced by EU-27 were not limited to its member states alone. From this standpoint, the EPC was created to foster cooperation and address issues of common interest, thereby strengthening security, stability, and prosperity throughout the European continent.
Against such background, the EPC offers a platform for EU member states to engage with other European partners, including Moldova, on a range of key issues, such as security, energy, trade, or defence. The Russian war in Ukraine highlighted the need for closer cooperation between the EU and its neighbours, and the EPC becomes a crucial step in this direction. In addition to the EU-27, the EPC includes United Kingdom and Turkey, the four EFTA countries (Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein), six countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Northern Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro), the countries of the Associated Trio (Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine), as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of EPC
The key advantage of EPC resides in its main function of providing an inclusive forum for dialogue among European countries at a time of geopolitical rivalries. Hence, EPC sends a strong geopolitical message. It excludes Russia and Belarus and thus shows unity against the war in Ukraine, also the United States is not a participant that once again indicates EU’s ambition of securing its leadership on the European continent by taking responsibility and managing its own affairs.
The EPC, as described by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, aims to go ‘beyond enlargement’ and seeks to extend political dialogue and coordination particularly on security issues, to like-minded countries with an ambition to join the EU and those that do not. Yet the main concern regarding the EPC is that the newly established organisation could become, in the long-term, an excuse for the EU to avoid delivering on its enlargement promise, by providing a ‘waiting room’ for Ukraine and Moldova as well as for countries in the Balkans or in South Caucasus.
So how can Moldova benefit from these strengths and weaknesses of the EPC?
First, strategic engagement.
For the accession countries, the establishment of another non-legally binding entity, that does not further their accession prospects is not exactly a promising development. While Michel explained that EU’s enlargement policy is in need of reform and will offer a ‘gradual, phased integration’, it is important to note that it has been twenty years since EU committed to the prospect of enlargement to the Western Balkans at the EU-Western Balkans summit in Thessaloniki. To this day, these countries are not yet members of the Union. In this sense, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba criticised the EPC for its potential of becoming a surrogate to the EU candidate status and would be seen as second-class treatment. Some scholars extended the argument to warn against EPC representing the tendency of finding alternatives and shifting focus from negotiations one enlargement. Unlike Macron’s statement the EPC is also about helping countries like Ukraine (and Moldova) join the EU, the European Council conclusions on the membership applications of Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia and Western Balkans in June 2022 emphasized that the EPC framework and enlargement are separate discussions. The same has been re-emphasized in September 2022 by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, who confirmed in her State of the Union speech that EPC is covering EU’s need to reach out to the countries ‘beyond the accession process’ in order to achieve European unity
Taking the above into consideration, by participating in the EPC and engaging constructively with EU member states, Moldova should showcase its potential as a reliable partner for the EU and to contribute constructively to the resolution of regional challenges, by promoting sectoral cooperation to address them. This is important given the EU’s geopolitical ambition to promote and safeguard peace and democracy in its neighbourhood. This will open the opportunity for strengthening its ties with the EU and advance its prospects for eventual EU membership. Moreover, as a host, Moldova should be proactive in using the EPC as the space for strategic engagement between candidate countries and the EU that could lead to the establishment of common projects, without centralizing EPC’s agenda on enlargement.
Agenda-setting is a critical tool for leveraging the benefits of hosting the EPC summit. The host countries, collaborate to prepare the agenda for the current and future EPC summits which gives Moldova the chance to influence the topics of discussion. The first summit built on the strategic discussions from the European Council meeting, and at the EPC in Prague two main issues dominated the agenda: (1) peace and security, especially Russia's war in Ukraine and (2) the energy crisis. Moldova’s unique position as a host provide the opportunity to participate in the shaping of such a high-profile international event. By steering the agenda towards actionable steps that benefit the broader public, Moldova can play a significant role in shaping the outcomes of the summit. Therefore, the agenda should advance the topic of energy, transport and digital connectivity or cyber-resilience to advance EU Council recommendations from December 2022 from inter- and intra-EU cooperation to extra-EU cooperation. Additionally, given Moldova’s commitment to combat disinformation, another topic for the agenda should revolve around discussing practical disinformation practices, such as EU’s Code of Practice on disinformation, for example.
Even though the EPC does not replace existing EU policies and instruments, it serves as a network-style forum for political dialogue, strategic cooperation, and joint action. Moldova's participation in the EPC provides access to a wide range of European leaders, such as major military powers such as the United Kingdom and Turkey, or major energy suppliers such as Azerbaijan or Norway and colleagues from Western Balkan, acceding to the EU. Therefore, EPC represents the ideal setting for Moldova to learn about the positions and reasonings of different countries, to advocate for its needs, and potentially develop common initiatives, particularly in areas of common interest such as climate change, AI growth, energy sustainability, migration or research and development.
While Moldova should aim for practical engagement and advancing its agenda on sectoral cooperation with the EU and other EPC members, networking at this stage of EPC should focus on building trust, increasing engagement, and socializing, particularly with countries with whom it has limited connections. Through networking at the EPC, Moldova can develop stronger relationships with other member countries and lay the foundation for future collaboration on shared challenges.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.