The Russian war started in Ukraine in February 2022 served as a wake-up call for the European Union and the United Kingdom, underscoring the pressing need for a forum that could facilitate Europe-wide cooperation. The war not only posed a direct threat to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity but also had broader implications for regional stability and security. It highlighted the vulnerabilities and potential threats faced by European nations, prompting a collective realization that a coordinated response and enhanced cooperation were essential. It is amid such developments on the European continent that the idea of a European Political Community (EPC) has emerged, responding to the need of dialogue facilitation, political coordination, and collective action on key issues affecting the European continent. So, what’s at stake for the EU?
Geopolitical ambition and the reshaping of the European Security architecture
The resurgence of war within European territory has compelled the European Union to reevaluate its geopolitical aspirations and capabilities. It has come to realize that strategic dependencies across various sectors, ranging from the economy to energy to defense, can expose it to adverse circumstances and potentially jeopardize European integration. The EU's previously expansive worldview has been significantly constrained. Russia's emergence as a systemic enemy, China's growing economic competition, and the increasing vocal criticisms of the EU model by countries in the global south have all contributed to this constrained outlook.
The EU has experienced the repercussions of strategic vulnerabilities firsthand. The conflict in Ukraine, triggered by Russian aggression, has underscored the importance of developing a self-reliant and resilient European security framework. The EU's reliance on external actors for critical resources and cooperation has exposed its vulnerabilities, necessitating a reevaluation of its global positioning. As the European Union navigates these challenges, it started to reconsider its approach to global engagement and adopt a more assertive and self-sufficient stance. Reducing strategic dependencies and diversifying partnerships are critical components of this process. In this sense the EPC facilitates the design of a new European security architecture.
On the one hand, the exclusion of Russia and Belarus from the EPC community is a notable aspect of the forum, a consequence of the Russian aggression in Ukraine. The EPC was formed in response to a shared sense of vulnerability among European nations following Russia's attack on Ukraine. As a result, at the first EPC summit, roundtable discussions primarily focused on peace and security, with a dedicated focus on the ongoing war in Ukraine. The exclusion of Russia and Belarus, thus, reflects the necessity to address the repercussions of their actions and the need to prioritize stability and security within the European continent in a pan-European format.
On the other hand, the inclusion of United Kingdom underscores the need to strengthen EU-UK ties. Despite no longer being a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom has played a significant role in rallying diplomatic, financial, and military support for Kyiv since the early stages of the war in Ukraine. This active involvement highlighted the continued importance of the UK in European defense and security architecture. The UK's engagement in supporting Ukraine and resource mobilization demonstrated its commitment to European security and its willingness to collaborate with EU member states on critical issues. This active role also served as a reminder that cooperation between the EU and the UK remains crucial. Thus, strengthening EU-UK ties through the EPC is vital for advancing European security and coordinating efforts to address shared challenges.
And finally, during the EPC summit in Prague, countries in conflict with each other, such as Armenia and Azerbaijan, made significant progress. They approved a EU civilian mission aimed at monitoring the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. This mission plays a vital role in promoting stability, building confidence, and supporting the work of border commissions in improving security along the bilateral border. This initiative might just showcase the EPC's ability to facilitate cooperation, encourage dialogue, and contribute to regional stability.
EPC – European unity, the French way
The idea of a political community has been historically a French initiative. In 1952, the European Coal and Steel Community was tasked with setting up a ‘European Political Community’ to coordinate the foreign policies of the six founding member states while moving towards a common market. In the early 1960s French President Charles de Gaulle came with a diplomatic initiative, named the Fouchet Plan, proposing an intergovernmental political coordination of common market states in which a foreign-policy and defence dimension would be added. Later, at the beginning of the 1970s, French president François Mitterrand came up with a similar idea for a ‘European confederation’ at the end of the Cold War in 1991, a forum to exchange views and establish peace and security, where the states of central and eastern Europe recently liberated from the Soviet occupation were welcomed.
These initiatives, although unrealized served as a precursor for European integration developments and an inspiration for the current EPC. In June 2022, at the European Council Meeting, President Macron reiterated that the new forum, the EPC, comes “to unite the European family”, a family of “democratic European nations that subscribe to our [EU] shared core values”, as he explained in his speech launching the EPC in May. The EPC represents an opportunity to leverage the collective strengths and resources of EU member states and European partners to enhance security, deter aggression, and ensure the stability and prosperity of the European region. With a membership of 44 leaders attending the first EPC summit in Prague, this forum offered a unique opportunity to exchange views, to establish a pan-European dialogue and engage in multilateral diplomacy on equal footing, at little political cost and no financial contribution.
The stakes are different for different parties joining the EPC. By actively participating in the EPC, countries like Moldova can contribute to shaping the future of European security and demonstrate their commitment to the shared values and interests of the European community. For France, the EPC should foster a geopolitical alignment to the EU as well as engage members in cooperation in transport and the energy sector, investments and infrastructure, migration, and youth, for example. For the EU, as reported by the European Parliament, “the EPC can be seen in the light of the ambition for a ‘geopolitical Commission’ ‘that stabilises its neighbourhood, accelerates enlargement and champions multilateralism”. The stakes are clearly high for the EU. Thus, for the European Union it is important that EPC goes beyond a mere photo opportunity or space for dialogue, but further gains momentum and brings forward concrete results that impact its members.
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.