Concerns about overlap between the activities of recently launched European Political Community and existing bodies such as G7, NATO, OSCE and the UN are misplaced. Issues like Russian aggression and climate change are and should be addressed in multiple forums.
Priorities for the European Political Community include a flexible structure; making it easy for small states to launch initiatives; setting up a Security Committee of France, Germany, Turkey and the UK; giving EPC a website and a twitter account so that Europeans know this new body exists and is working for them even between the planned six monthly summits.
President Macron is an impressive politician. He inspired more than 40 countries with his vision of a “European Political Community” and managed to stage-manage their participation in its launch. There was no prior agreement as to the structure or aims of this new body, just a name, and a general outline of its role, provided by President Macron himself. What he offered the EU and most of its neighbours was the chance to turn his basic sketch into a working model. This Op-Ed suggests what that working model should look like.
Macron’s reasons for proposing the new organisation were well understood.
One was to give a political voice to countries keen to join the EU but waiting, in their view far too long, for the green light to come in. Another was to offer a consolatory partnership to Turkey, which has spent years as a candidate for EU Membership. Negotiations were suspended in 2018 because of its deteriorating human rights record.
And then there is the UK. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine made strained relations between the UK and the EU and in particular France increasingly awkward and a UK role in the EPC might encourage a reset.
President Macron offered more details of what he had in mind for the EPC in a speech in May 2022.
The new organisation proposed by Macron would, he argued, allow “democratic” European nations with shared core values “to find a new space” for political and security cooperation, cooperation in the energy sector, in transport, investments, infrastructures, and the free movement of persons. He adds that joining it “would not prejudge future accession to the European Union necessarily, and it would not be closed to those who have left the EU.” In other words, EU candidates would be welcome, but so would the UK, despite having left the EU, and Turkey, which is unlikely ever to join it.
There was another theme too – Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine is referred to 15 times in Macron’s speech.
The embryonic EPC held its first meeting in Prague on 6th October in advance of an informal meeting of the European Council on 7th October. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, chaired this event. There was no formal written outcome of the meeting and none had been envisaged. Mechanisms for such formal written outcomes will be needed in future.
The invitation list to the Prague meeting included 17 non-EU-Member States. The President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission were also invited. For the list of attendees see here.
The summit provided the occasion for an important meeting between President Macron and UK Prime Minister Liz Truss, followed by a joint statement which included an agreement to resume UK-France summits and hold the next one in 2023 in France. The concluding words of their joint statement were that they “look forward to next steps”.
The broad direction of those “next steps” emerged at the inaugural meeting. According to the account of the proceedings published by the European Council the EPC aims to “strengthen the security, stability and prosperity of the European continent”. The two issues which dominated the leaders’ discussions in Prague were peace and security – especially Russia’s war in Ukraine – and the energy crisis.
What “next steps” will entail remains unsettled, and that provides an opportunity for those attending the inaugural meeting to influence events, in particular those scheduled to host meetings of the EPC this year and next: Moldova in spring 2023, Spain in Autumn 2023, and the UK in spring 2024
One “next step” upcoming host nations could take and now seem to be taking would be to form host-nations working groups, loosely based on the “trios” arrangement which applies to the rotating 6-month Presidency of the Council. Under this arrangement the Presidency of the day works together with its predecessor and successor.
This model indeed seems to be being adapted for the EPC. It means that the first trio is Moldova, Spain and the UK, which are due to host the EPC in 2023 and 2024. The EU Members will no doubt liaise with the European Commission and the President of the European Council, and the non-EU members will have to liaise widely. Other meetings and groups could prepare the ground for summits, as happens with the G7.
There is already movement in a “trios” direction. UK Foreign Office Minister Lord Goldsmith announced in Parliament in October that the UK would engage with hosts Moldova and Spain to shape not just the UK hosted event but also those hosted by its partners. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares tweeted in November that he would work together with his Moldovan counterpart “to activate the European Political Community”.
Trios should flag up highlights of their deliberations about the agenda and priorities of the EPC, which would give the EPC some existence and profile between its six-monthly summit meetings. They should give the EPC a website and a twitter account – no international body quite exists without these tools at its disposal. In fact, for the time being it is the twitter accounts of ministers of the first trio of host nations, Moldova, Spain and the UK, that offer us glimpses of possible progress on the EPC. French Europe Minister Laurence Boone tweeted on 21st November 2022 that she had met UK Foreign Minister Leo Docherty to discuss UK/French relations and the EPC. Then Moldovan Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Nicu Popescu informed us through twitter about a brainstorming session in Paris on 22 November 2022 hosted by the French Foreign Ministry.
What should the developing EPC look like?
There seems to be a consensus that a binding treaty is to be avoided in favour of an informal framework. That makes sense. A good option would be a political agreement on the aims and structure of the organisation, covering any voting rules that might be put in place and the status of votes taken by the EPC. There would be nothing strange about a non-binding written framework. It works for the G7.
A simple structure seems to be what is wanted and is certainly to be preferred. UK Foreign Minister Zac Goldsmith stated in Parliament that “there are no plans for a formal secretariat. That is not to say that some kind of structure would not be set up on informal basis, but there are no plans for a formal secretariat.” Proposals and initiatives should result directly from the sponsorship of member countries, without the need for an institutional secretariat.
A low-cost operation would be an advantage. Even a frugal administrative budget can be avoided if countries simply pay their own way. This would not rule out member countries financing specific projects or financing each other, but that would only come about if they voted specifically to do so on a project-by-project basis.
The EPC could be very loosely modelled on the United Nations. In fact, at the inaugural meeting Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda tweeted that the EPC could be a United Nations of Europe in the making. Its aim would be the achievement of security, stability and prosperity on the European continent. That catch-all formulation figured in the Prague documentation.
Concerns about the EPC duplicating the work of G7, UN OSCE etc misplaced
Concerns about the EPC duplicating the work of other bodies such as the G7, NATO, the Council of Europe, Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) and the UN have been expressed by the UK Government. And maybe by Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares, who tweeted on 17th November that he would work together with his Moldovan counterpart “to activate the European Political Community and within the OSCE for peace, stability, and security in Europe.” But demarcation between the activities of these bodies should not be over-strict.
The activities of international organisations can and do overlap without causing problems. By way of example, all the international bodies referred to above have engaged with the issue of climate change, as unsurprisingly do the annual Conferences of Parties to the Paris Agreements. Foreign Ministers of the G7 issued declarations in May and August 2022 on, respectively, climate change and peace and security, and on preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, while the G7 Leaders’ Communiqué June 2022 vowed to “continue to impose severe and immediate economic costs on President Putin’s regime for its unjustifiable war of aggression against Ukraine..”. No complaints yet from COP27 or the UN, it seems. Indeed, Japan, due to take over the Presidency of the G7 in 2023 and return to the UN Security Council has vowed to use both roles to put pressure on Russia.
Russia meanwhile has been blocking UN Security Council resolutions on Ukraine, and more recently blocking action in the OSCE as it derails peacekeeping missions and disrupts the organisation’s budgetary process.
Free Europe needs an organisation that Russia isn’t a part of to do the job of organisations that Russia is part of, and in any event, several international bodies focusing their energies on common problems is more likely to yield practical results than fighting turf wars over who does what.
In the “United Nations” model of the EPC, the basic working unit would be its Plenary Assembly, made up of all the Member States of the EPC. This Plenary or General Assembly could take collective positions, with the threshold for adoption being, say, 75% of the total membership. Resolutions might create political commitments for those voting for them, but not for other Member States.
There could also be a role for a European Security Committee or Security Council. This is something France and Germany have floated in the past, as a body in which the UK would participate. In this manifestation it might comprise France, Germany, the UK, and perhaps Turkey, in recognition of its strategic importance.
A host-nations trio of Moldova, Spain and the UK might be well-disposed to securing recognition for Turkey’s place in the EPC in one way or another, though Turkey’s poor human rights record and its rifts with Sweden, Greece and Cyprus would guarantee opposition to it having a prominent role. The present writer would argue that such objections should overcome. It is true that President Macron urged that the EPC would allow “democratic” European nations with shared core values to engage in political and security cooperation, and some would argue about Turkey’s democratic credentials, but part of the rationale of having an EPC in the first place was to find a place for Turkey on the right side of the geopolitical divide between “free Europe”, on the one side, and rogue states Russia and Belarus on the other. It is also the case that Turkey has pursued a somewhat ambiguous policy on Russia but it has not accommodated Russia so much as to put it on the wrong side of that geopolitical divide.
An EPC Security Council of France, Germany, Turkey and the UK would give impetus to collective security thinking by the quartet as well as increasing bilateral security contacts between the quartet and others. The EPC Security Council could also provide visibility to the EPC between summits and adopt and publish positions taken by consensus of the quartet on issues falling within the general remit of the EPC, without prejudice to positions taken subsequently in summits of the EPC as a whole.
If the EPC is to hold the interest of the countries which attended its launch, it will have to do more than simply reprise its launch party. This blog is one vision of what doing more might look like.
Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Oxford, where he taught EU law, constitutional law, and public international law. He was formerly a barrister specialising in litigation before the EU Courts and is currently a Member of the International Academic Council of Fide Fundación, an independent and non-partisan Spanish think-tank.