Europe launches block to reinforce Russia’s isolation, but doesn’t know what to do with it


In an effort by French President Emmanuel Macron to resume a leading role in diplomacy, 43 European leaders gathered this Thursday (6) in Prague, Czech Republic, for the first meeting of a new bloc of countries on the continent. —the European Political Community or EPC.

In addition to European Union nations, the meeting was attended by the United Kingdom, Turkey, Ukraine and even rivals Armenia and Azerbaijan. On the agenda, emergencies in the areas of security and energy that have impacted the region since the Russian invasion of Kiev. Not for nothing, the group’s keynote presentation was to demonstrate the isolation of Moscow and its first-time ally Belarus.

The EPC brings together the 27 EU member states plus 17 European countries. Of the 44 leaders scheduled for the meeting, one last-minute absence was the Danish Mette Frederiksen – the prime minister is involved in internal crises that resulted in the anticipation of parliamentary elections.

“It is about building a strategic unity. The objective is, above all, to share the same reading of the situation that Europe is facing, to also build a common strategy”, said Macron. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, stressed that the members “share the same continent and face the same challenges”.

The exclusion of Moscow from the equation was not just symbolic and ended up being evidenced in the words of Josep Borrell, head of EU foreign policy. “The meeting is a way to seek a new order without Russia,” he said, adding that the departure was not final. “It’s not because we don’t want Russia to be part of Europe, but because the president [Vladimir] Putin withdrew from the European community.”

In addition to the polite diplomatic rhetoric, there remained to be clarified the concrete results that this European “political coordination platform” to deal with topics of common interest could bring.

This Thursday’s agenda included a general meeting, sectored tables – to debate topics such as peace and security, energy and climate, economic situation and migration -, bilateral meetings and a dinner, without a final declaration, just a so-called “family photo” as proof. of unit.

Behind the scenes, however, there were discussions about what kind of unity can emerge between Turkey, Sweden and Finland, for example – President Recep Tayyp Erdogan maintains obstacles to Stockholm and Helsinki joining the NATO military alliance. Or between Ankara and Greece and Cyprus, with whom he also has tensions.

Indeed, in his statements at the event, Erdogan indicated that he did not change his position on these matters. On Sweden, in reference to activists based in Stockholm: “As long as terrorist organizations demonstrate in the streets and are in Parliament, our approach will not be positive.” On Greece: “Their policy is based on lies. We have nothing to argue with them.”

Another focus of questioning is the invitation to Armenia and Azerbaijan – which are trying to negotiate a peace agreement after successive accusations of breaking a ceasefire and armed clashes on the border – and to Kosovo, a country that aspires to enter the EU but is not even recognized. by all its members.

The meeting in Prague then became a great show of solidarity for a continent mired in crisis. Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky, represented by Prime Minister Denis Shmihal and once again speaking via videoconference, urged leaders to transform the new group into a “European peace community”.

“Let today be the starting point. The point from which Europe and the entire free world will move to ensure peace for all of us. It is possible,” he said, calling for all possible efforts to end the war.

Another highlight was British Prime Minister Liz Truss, who, under domestic pressure after just a month in office, took the stage with EU leaders – leaving hopes of a re-establishment of relations between Brussels and London amid deadlocks over post-Brexit agreements for Northern Ireland.

Regarding Macron, to whom he relativized support in his campaign, Truss declared after a bilateral meeting that he “is a friend”. After meeting with the summit’s host, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, she further emphasized her engagement and the importance “for like-minded European democracies to present a united front against Putin’s brutality.”

Borrell, in an article before the summit, said that it still needed to be clarified what the EPC’s core logic was, the ultimate affiliation of the group, how its relationship with the EU will go, how it should make decisions and even have a budget. own. A second meeting is already planned, probably in Moldova, a troubled Ukrainian neighbour.

Meanwhile, this Friday (7), the leaders of the 27 EU countries will remain in Prague. It remains to be seen whether the bloc’s meeting will be able to be more objective.

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