EU leaders holding a summit on Thursday began discussing, with a mixture of interest and skepticism, the idea of a “European Political Community” proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.
What is the idea?
Macron suggested the European Political Community proposal to the European Parliament on May 9, as the chamber debated Ukraine’s ambition to become a candidate to one day join the EU.
He envisioned it as a broad but “lean” decision-making structure for political dialogue and cooperation on matters of common interest to European nations, both inside and outside the EU.
It was not to replace EU policies and instruments, he said. Rather, it would set up regular meetings on key issues “to stabilize the European continent,” Macron said on a recent trip to Moldova.
Which countries could participate?
It would include countries that want to join the EU, such as Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and the Western Balkan states. But also those happy to be out, like Switzerland and Norway, and perhaps even former member Great Britain.
There is a question mark over Turkey, a longtime EU hopeful that sits alongside many European countries in NATO, which has expressed interest in the idea. But Macron has insisted the forum would be only for countries that share the EU’s “democratic values”.
How has it been received?
Reactions to the proposal range from interest to caution, some tinged with skepticism. But the general response has been to want to hear more before judgment is passed.
North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski, in Brussels on Thursday for an earlier summit between the EU and the Western Balkans, praised the initiative but said it “should not and should not be a substitute for full membership in the European Union.” .
Ukraine was among the most reserved, fearing it could be a ploy to keep its EU bid in limbo indefinitely, before the 27-country European Union assured it that was not the case.
Britain, which turned its relations with the EU upside down six years ago with its Brexit referendum, was not surprisingly cool about the idea.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has left her preferences in other forums, such as the G7 and NATO, where she feels her country has a bigger role.
French officials, however, say they are still hopeful Britain can see the value in being part of a European Political Community.
And the members of the EU?
Some EU countries are reflexively wary of ideas spread by France, the bloc’s heavyweight along with Germany. Others believe the initiative is ill-defined or wonder how disparate countries can come together in this format.
But many acknowledge that some kind of forum where European nations can come together to discuss the problems facing them all could be worthwhile.
Germany and others stress that the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, currently sidelined due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, and the Pancontinental Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based human rights body, should not overlap.
Macron’s Elysee Palace was upbeat, with an official saying the idea “was being received more and more positively”.
When could it happen?
Thursday’s summit discussion of the idea is described as a “brainstorming” session that would kick off debate that would last until the European summer.
It will be analyzed “step by step”, the French presidency said, with the aim of holding an inaugural meeting sometime in the second half of this year.