Tue, 29 Nov 2022

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 European Union enlargement.

The meeting in the capital of the Czech Republic is the brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron, backed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The summit, at Prague Castle, will involve a series of meetings on the key challenges Europe faces: security, energy, climate, the economic situation, and migration.

When he launched the idea for the European Political Community, Macron said that 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 for creation of a 'European political community' beyond the bloc

Brussels has billed the initiative as an invaluable "platform for political coordination" among the disparate grouping of 44 nations invited.

But there are deep disagreements, and even open conflict among some of those attending, and there is scepticism that the one-day event will be much more than a glorified photo opportunity.

Russia, which is not invited, will loom over the meeting as discussions focus on the economic and security fallout from its war against its pro-Western neighbour.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, currently at war with Moscow, will connect via video link from Kyiv. His prime minister will stand in for him at the talks.

'Political dialogue'

"The ambition is to bring leaders together on an equal footing and to foster political dialogue and cooperation on issues of common interest so that, together, we work on strengthening the security, stability and prosperity of Europe as a whole," EU chief Charles Michel said in his invitation letter.

Those set 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 over the usefulness of an enterprise 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 trips abroad after taking office, London was wary about 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 stalling their bids to join NATO.

Even more fraught could be the presence of the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, whose troops continue bloody clashes along their volatile frontier.

Those pushing to join the EU - Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and the western Balkan nations - might be expected to be more open to making the event a success.

But they too are on their guard about the format becoming a consolation prize where the EU can park their ambitions for full membership.

Council of Europe

If successful, the European Political Community may in some form be integrated into the already existing Council of Europe (CoE), a 46-member conglomerate of European nations that was created in 1949.

The CoE states that it was built in the same spirit as the European Coal and Steel Community, which later developed into the European Economic Community, the predecessor of today's EU.

The aim: to create a "Europe of peace founded on the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law", according to its website. The CoE became the guardian institution of the European Court of Human Rights and was responsible for the abolition of the death penalty while setting the standards for a Europe-wide human rights-based system.

The CoE suspended the Russian Federation's membership in May this year.

(With agencies)

Originally published on RFI

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