In May last year, French president Emmanuel Macron took many observers by surprise with his detail-light suggestion for a “European Political Community” (EPC). Commentators and policymakers alike were sceptical, with many questioning the format’s purpose and its ability to take root. Yet, as leaders from across Europe meet for the second EPC summit in Chisinau, it is evident that a forum for bilateral and minilateral meetings and initiative such as this could contribute to more security and connectedness for EU member states and their non-EU neighbours.
The rationale behind the creation of the EPC was threefold: to emphasise European geopolitical cooperation in light of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine; to remedy enlargement fatigue by providing an additional forum for exchange between EU candidate countries and member states; and to create a forum for exchange with non-EU security actors such as the United Kingdom (and to a lesser extent Turkey).
Bilateral meetings in times of crisis, such as between Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s prime minister Albin Kurti, could help ease tensions and draw attention to the broader security context. Moreover, many leaders of smaller non-EU states privately praise the EPC as a welcome opportunity to rub shoulders – and be photographed with – bigger players on the continent; Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama, has publicly expressed cautious optimism, especially regarding the EPC’s reach beyond the EU. But, although larger EU member states are supportive in public, behind closed doors some officials worry that the initiative runs the risk of duplicating existing formats.
The European Council on Foreign Relations used the months after the first EPC summit in Prague in November 2022 to explore the potential of the initiative through a series of high-level workshops in Paris, Madrid, and London. These included discussions among diplomats about the possible institutionalisation of the EPC, and how to reconcile its strategic and practical goals. Their ideas ranged from a G20-type model to a “European General Assembly” that offers space for bilateral meetings and cooperation. The conversation also inevitably turned to the idea that the EPC should be closely related to the EU institutions – meaning it would be easier to access EU funds, which set off alarm bells among the bloc’s more frugal members.
The geostrategic and the practical (and financial) arrangements of the EPC share a common denominator: a platform for minilateralism between EU and non-EU members, with space to solve the occasional bilateral dispute on the sidelines. ECFR’s research indicates the EPC has the potential to contribute in this way to concrete policy proposals in three areas: energy especially, but also connectivity and security.
Energy cuts through tensions between the EU internal market and the rest of the continent. Indeed, Russia’s war on Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis mean that the internal market is not sufficient to action that can shore up European energy security. A logic of cooperation prevails in the push to decouple from dependence on Russian fossil fuels and build resilience to the weaponsation of energy by external actors. As ECFR’s energy deals tracker shows, 26 of the 110 deals that EU member states and the European Commission have brokered since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been with other countries in the EPC space – from Azerbaijan and Georgia to Norway, Serbia, and Turkey.
Greater energy sovereignty can also provide support to more vulnerable EPC countries. In the weeks after Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine, engineers accelerated Ukraine’s and Moldova’s planned connection to the European electricity grid – condensing what would have been a year’s work into just a fortnight. Beyond that, a new enhanced electricity grid could significantly advance both European energy security and climate ambitions, by compensating for energy deficiencies and taking advantage of higher concentrations of renewables in some parts of the continent. The EPC could be the forum to discuss and develop plans for this infrastructure, particularly the power grid strategy of the region covered by the initiative and its connectivity with neighbouring territories – including North Africa and the Gulf. Only the EPC can offer the membership and political goal-setting needed for such ambitious plans.
EPC summits are a real opportunity to begin this task of deepening (and widening) energy security. The likely absence of conclusions from the summit in Chisinau complicates the possibility of specific initiatives at a pan-EPC level – although there is nothing to stop bilateral discussions in the margins pushing them forward. Moreover, the parties could agree on a principle of consultation and information sharing for cross border energy infrastructure. This would both reflect the common interest in European energy sovereignty and provide a platform for future progress.
Security and connectivity
The EPC could contribute to cooperation on countering third-party interference though a network of Open-Source Intelligence Centres of Excellence. This would help compensate for the general lack of trust among national intelligence agencies throughout the region. The EPC could also promote cooperation on crisis management after natural disasters or terrorist attacks, an EPC cyber-security programme, as well as working together on nuclear safety. All the EPC states have an urgent need for ideas such as these, some of which lack an adequate alternative platform for discussion. Others would benefit from a boost through the EPC (such as the International Atomic Energy Agency’s efforts on nuclear safety).
EPC countries could also work together on securing critical raw material supply chains. Even though this is becoming quite a crowded policy space, the EPC could nevertheless provide added value. It can, for example, work towards the joint identification of mining, refining, and recycling projects across EPC countries. Moreover, it could aim to focus the interest of European industry, especially in the battery value chain, to get a better sense of opportunities and hurdles of projects in EPC members. European leaders should provide the strategic steer for such a geoeconomic agenda at the next EPC summit, since raw materials are an integral part of building a clean energy economy that is more resilient to external division and coercion.
Finally, non-EU citizens would notice any progress through the EPC on reducing mobile roaming tariffs to allow for better and faster communication and improved accessibility across Europe, increasing public support for the EPC in candidate and third countries like the host country Moldova.
EPC initiatives should be first and foremost a trust building exercise as a prerequisite to addressing energy, security, and connectivity. None of the leaders travelling to Chisinau could have been sure of the outcome of the meeting, beyond stating their common interests and offering space for minilateralism. Nevertheless, against the backdrop of a weakened Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the latter are significant outcomes in themselves.
As the cliché goes, no major decisions in Europe have been taken over the past 32 years without agreement between France and Germany – and that is valid for the decision on how the EPC will progress. But EPC summits could be the place where the dilemma between the wide horizons of geopolitics and the more practical perspective of addressing urgent needs see the first steps towards resolution.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.