European Political Community: The Future Of An Intuition
29/05/2023
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European Political Community: The Future Of An Intuition

This article is also available in French and Spanish in Grand Continent, a journal published by Groupe d’études géopolitiques.

In a few days, the second summit of the European Political Community, whose creation was proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron on May 9, 2022, will be held in Chisinau, Moldova. We take this opportunity to look back at the project’s genesis, and to outline the prospects for its future development.

A look back at its genesis

In his May 9th, 2022, speech, the French President acknowledged the parallels between his proposal and Mitterrand’s proposal for a European confederation. The question was simple: “How do we politically structure our Europe?”. As had been the case thirty years earlier, the same intuition applied: Europe was “in search of a forum where all its member states can engage in permanent, organized dialogue under conditions of equal dignity” 1 . Unlike 1989, when peace and liberation had prevailed, this need was not driven by an architectural ambition to reunite two Europes that had been separated for decades, but by the urgency of the dramatic circumstances surrounding Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, by the return of war and geopolitics.

Providing an answer to this question had nonetheless once again become imperative. This was not only because there was an urgent need to forge and demonstrate European unity in support of Ukraine, but also because of the awareness that the process of accession to the European Union by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, all of which had recently applied for membership, was likely to take a long time, even if it is only a few years 2 . But most important of all — and this is the intuition — is the recognition of the profoundly asymmetrical nature of the relationship between the EU and the countries which aspire to join it throughout the entire process.

The EU-Balkans summits have taught us that, far from allowing discussion of the variety of common interests irrespective of the enlargement process, as is their ambition, these summits always focus solely on this issue and are often nothing more than an opportunity for the Union to repeat over and over again the promise of future membership, and for the countries of the Western Balkans to reiterate their grievances and frustrations. Moreover, given the EU’s centrality and the position that candidates for EU membership find themselves in, these discussions do not offer a framework for dialogue in conditions of equal dignity.

And so, at this precise moment in European history, despite the fact that the European continent is the richest in regional organizations, there existed a void in governance that needed to be filled.

But the legacy of the European confederation project ends there.

This is especially true given that the lessons learned from its failure have been widely documented 3 : the inclusion of the Soviet Union, of course, but also American reservations, the hesitant support of the Delors Commission, doubts regarding the relationship with the CSCE and the Council of Europe, and suspicion of a confederation seen as a waiting room or even an alternative to membership in the Communities, this last reason continuing to shape the fears of some of our partners with regard to the European political community.

Revisiting the question of Europe’s organization in May 2022 did not pre-empt the response of the 27 to the candidacies of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, and especially not, despite widespread suspicions, the French response, as demonstrated by the commitment of the French Presidency of the EU Council to granting candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, which was formalized by the European Council decision of June 2022, or its mediation efforts to lift the Bulgarian veto on the opening of accession negotiations with Northern Macedonia. And France has been pointing this out ad nauseam for the past year: the European Political Community is not an alternative to enlargement 4 . On the contrary, the French proposal was a gesture of goodwill. At a time of historic upheaval, it was a way of rapidly creating the political space needed to identify and express the common interests of all European states, on an equal footing and with equal dignity 5 .

We also must not underestimate in the genesis of this process the equally essential question of how to reintegrate into the European family a United Kingdom that has left the EU. This may come as a surprise, given how bitter and well-publicized the Franco-British disputes of recent years have been. But beyond the fuss of this period, which was full of sound and fury, the French president has always been aware of the need to re-engage the UK as an indispensable European partner. This was evident as early as 2019 in his proposal to create a European Security Council that would include the UK, and the Franco-British summit in March 2023 was the first bilateral event of this kind. And here again, the conviction that the relationship between the EU and the UK, which would continue to be marked by ongoing renegotiation of its terms 6 , offered a framework that was both too restrictive and inadequate. The British Prime Minister understood this and has proposed hosting the EPC summit in the first half of 2024.

Finally, the genesis of this project was based on the desire to think about Europe beyond the European Union, to think of Europe in its various dimensions as a single community, reconciling its political, cultural and economic geographies. It is a community of interests (peace and security, interconnections, energy supply and transition, food security, migration management and mobility organization, in our common spaces — the Black, Baltic and North Seas — and in our relations with China and the “global South”) rather than a community of shared destiny. It is a project that is more “Westphalian” than “Strasbourg-based”.

This does not mean thinking of the European Political Community as being in opposition to the European Union, but rather, on the one hand, recognizing that, even when expanded to include current candidates for membership, Europe cannot be reduced to the Union, that some European nations have never considered joining, that others have abandoned the idea (Norway, Iceland), and that others have chosen to leave. On the other hand, a political community cannot be disentangled from the complex web of agreements that link the Union to neighboring countries, such as the agreement with the United Kingdom, the agreement on the European Economic Area, the agreements with Switzerland and the association agreements.

This does not mean, however, that the European Political Community can replace the Council of Europe, as its governing bodies may have feared — a fear that the success of the recent Reykjavik Summit proved to be unfounded. While there is almost complete consensus among its members, it is not the European Political Community’s role to engage in convention-based work (the work of the Council of Europe remains as productive as ever, as evidenced by its work on artificial intelligence) or to create a mechanism for guaranteeing rights and freedoms, particularly individual rights and freedoms. Beyond the name itself of this new body, which should say enough about its mission, there are at least two concrete reasons for this: concern for preserving the autonomy of EU decision-making 7 in areas falling within its remit; the experience of fifteen years of unsuccessful attempts to reconcile the legal orders of the Union and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Finally, this is not the same as replicating the OSCE, whose aim was to achieve coexistence with Russia, but rather the European Political Community is an instrument for strengthening the resilience of the European continent in the face of threats, both from Russia and elsewhere.

Prospects for the future

It only took a few months — from the May 9th speech until the October 6th Prague summit — to show what the EPC was not: it was neither an alternative to enlargement, nor a duplicate of existing organizations or the unveiling of a new one, nor an alliance offering security guarantees, nor a replica of the European Union with looser ties.

The embrace of this project by some of its members (notably Ukraine and Moldova) and by numerous think-tanks made it possible during the Prague summit to define the European Political Community for what it is: the political organization of a community of European nations based on the principle of equal dignity, in order to engage in dialogue on strategic issues on a continental scale and to strengthen its security, stability and prosperity.

It is somewhat pointless to try and predict how the CPE will develop beyond what it already is, to the complete satisfaction of its members. There is nothing set in stone.

But from the considerations that preceded its genesis, together with the success of the Prague summit, we can draw some key conclusions for the future of the CPE.

First, we must resist the temptation to institutionalize. There is a sometimes underestimated value in the biannual meeting of heads of state and government and their close associates with their European counterparts, as well as, at times in diplomatic matters, in deliberation taking precedence over decision-making. The format’s flexibility, the adaptability of the timetable and the informal nature of discussions are conducive to building trust, as well as a sense and awareness of a community of interests. On the other hand, it would be useful to structure preparations for the summits and ensure a form of continuity from one to the next 1) by creating a “quartet” of presidencies, of EU and non-EU members, based on the principle of rotation already in force (Spain and then the United Kingdom will host the next summits, after Moldova) and 2) by better coordinating the preparatory work for the various thematic roundtables.

The second temptation would be to judge the success of EPC summits solely on the basis of their “deliverables” — in other words, decisions on concrete cooperative ventures between some or all of its members — as a way to justify its necessity. Without denying the usefulness — particularly for the host countries — of formalizing such cooperation at the summits, in terms of connectivity or cybersecurity for example, and in flexible formats, the strategic dimension of the ambition that led to the creation of the EPC makes it equally necessary to demonstrate its added value, above and beyond the vital symbolism of the European family’s unity in the face of Russia, through three objectives:

1. Defining common strategic objectives: without necessarily aiming to align positions, EPC summits should enable the 47 Heads of State and Government to identify common strategic priorities based on the variety of interests mentioned above.

In order to implement the political momentum and guidelines identified, and in particular to finance them, the EPC should draw on existing organizations, along the lines of the G7, starting with regional financial institutions and development banks (EIB, EBRD, CEB) 8 , and of course the European Commission.

2. Resolving regional disputes: if “the history of Europe is the history of its borders” 9 , the Russian aggression against Ukraine is not the only indication that this history is still relevant. Disputes between Serbia and Kosovo, between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, or between Armenia and Azerbaijan, all of which undermine the continent’s unity, will have to be addressed either during or alongside the summits. An example is the Prague meeting between the President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia, mediated by the French President and the President of the European Council, a format which is already planned to be repeated, with the German Chancellor and perhaps in the future the British Prime Minister, at the Chisinau and Granada summits.

3. Aligning regional initiatives: the EPC is filling a governance void in the European architecture. The aim is not to build a neoclassical edifice whose vaulted ceiling has already been put in place, but at the very least to escape from the Escher painting by improving the coordination and clarity of existing initiatives as well as their objectives and means. Two possible illustrations:

Initiatives to promote economic development, regional integration and European integration in the Western Balkans are numerous. These include the EU-Balkans Summits, the Berlin Process, the Brdo-Brijuni Process, the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP), the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), the South Eastern Cooperation Initiative (SECI), the Central European Initiative (CEI) and the “Open Balkans” initiative. The EPC is not meant to replace these initiatives, but in the interest of better coordination and understanding, the annual presidencies of these various initiatives and processes could present their objectives and results at each summit in order to identify common priorities for the future.

Similarly, the reconstruction of Ukraine is full of initiatives, and while we hope that the European Union will be at the heart of this effort — not only because of its financial capacity but also in view of Ukraine’s accession — the EPC can serve as a forum for coordination with other European donors, notably the United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland.

The Chisinau summit is already a success. It will affirm European anchoring and the support and solidarity of its partners for a country threatened by Russia and aspiring to join the Union. We can also hope that it will further determine the shape and objectives of the EPC, the future of an intuition.

Notes

  1. Speech by President François Mitterrand on May 4, 1992 before the Assembly of the Council of Europe on the “théorie des ensembles” as a basis for European integration, the strengthening of the Council of Europe and the complementary nature of European organizations, and the construction of the Palais des droits de l’Homme.
  2. Alexandre Adam, “L’UE à 36 : dégager l’horizon”, Schuman Report on Europe – the State of the Union 2023, ed. Marie B, 2023.
  3. Roland Dumas, “Un projet mort-né : la Confédération européenne”, Politique étrangère, 3/2001, p. 687; Jean Musitelli, “François Mitterrand, architecte de la Grande Europe : le projet de Confédération européenne (1990-1991)”, Revue internationale et stratégique, 2011/2, no. 82; M. Foucher, “A Prague, de l’échec confédéral à la communauté politique européenne”, Le Grand continent, September 30, 2022.
  4. It would be of great benefit to EPC summits to follow the recommendation of Sam Green, Edward Lucas and Nicolas Tenzer in “The Road to Chisinau: How the European Political Community Can – and Cannot – Address the Wider Continent’s Conundrums”, CEPA, May 2023: “Don’t talk about enlargement”.
  5. The principle of equal dignity was forgotten by President Chirac when, in 2003, he lamented that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe had “lost an opportunity to be silent”, words that deeply scarred countries that had been denied the right to speak out by totalitarian powers. On October 26, 2018, in Bratislava, alongside the Slovak President, President Macron contradicted these remarks: “I have not forgotten the words of the historian Bronislaw Geremek, who said ‘Europe does not realize how much it owes us’, and it is true […] if I have one message to give to the Slovaks right now, it would be to say to them: say it, choose it, transform European history, it’s yours as much as it is each member country’s; and don’t miss any opportunity to speak out and take part in the European debate, don’t miss any opportunity”.
  6. The House of Lords European Affairs Committee’s April 29, 2023 report on the future UK-EU relationship gives a taste of this.
  7. For example, the discussions between heads of state and government at the Versailles summit on March 10-11, 2022 did more to advance the cause of Ukraine’s application to join the EU than the negotiations on the text of the declaration.
  8. Laurence Boone, “La Communauté politique européenne: quels objectifs, quel horizon?”, Schuman Report on Europe – The State of the Union 2023, ed. Marie B, 2023.
  9. Krzysztof Pomian, L’Europe et ses nations, Paris, Gallimard, 1990.
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Alexandre Adam, European Political Community: The Future Of An Intuition, May 2023,

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