The European Political Community is an idea whose time has come

An all-European group catering to the continent's collective interest is both important and timely

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan chats with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Prague last week. Reuters
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In successive months, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been pictured in significant groupings at the tables of international summits for the world's emerging spheres of interests.

International law decrees that the world should not be divided into exclusive hegemonic regions. The recent travels of Mr Erdogan is a demonstration that just such a global disintegration could be closer than we think. If new regional coping mechanisms are needed to bridge the resulting political gaps, the European Political Community is a timely step.

The picture of Mr Erdogan last week at a table in Prague with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and a foe, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, was a symbol of hope that Europe is breaking out of its old (failing) ways of doing diplomacy.

Mr Aliyev was also at the table in Samarkand in September when Mr Erdogan sat on a notably higher chair than the sofa on which Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi were seated.

The Prague summit last week was a notable first. It was the fruition of efforts started by French President Emmanuel Macron to demonstrate that a Europe-led dialogue still had an important role.

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The achievement of the summit was to show that the EU was not the be-all and end-all of the European voice

As Mr Macron demonstrated in his marathon efforts to turn Mr Putin from the path of war in February, he has a vision that talks and negotiations should be supreme. The documentary footage to emerge from the Elysee Palace this summer showed what commentators called the “hyper-personalised diplomacy” of the French leader. It showed him on the phone with Mr Putin before the invasion of Ukraine. During the call, Mr Putin revealed he was in the gym. Putting down the phone would mean Mr Macron would hit the mobile numbers of "Olaf" or "Volodymyr".

As a form of engagement, it was pure Macron. The Prague summit was something different – a total of 44 countries turned up, encouraged to discuss common pressures such as energy prices and migration on the same platform. There are those that are in conflict or on the verges. Plus not-so-old enemies stuck in a cold peace. Or states flirting with pariahdom, such as the UK with Brexit.

The achievement of the summit was to show that the EU was not the be-all and end-all of the European voice, but a leading pillar. The discussion of security also took an approach that was not restricted by the membership roll of Nato.

As the gathering was explicitly political, the agenda was not encumbered by the Lisbon to Vladivostok nature of the Council of Europe, the organisation whose remit is to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law on the continent. Meanwhile, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe – considered the world's largest regional security-oriented intergovernmental set-up – is now a largely technical outfit that helps monitor frozen conflicts.

It was notable that some of the ice was broken. After British Prime Minister Liz Truss said the jury was out on Mr Macron as friend or foe, she made overtures to the French leader. "This is an island, but this island didn't move from the continent," Mr Macron said at a later news conference. "I really hope this is the beginning of the day after."

French President Emmanuel Macron at the end of an informal EU summit in Prague last week. EPA

Significant emphasis was given to Norway’s statement that it would mobilise as much of its natural gas capacity as it could to supply its European neighbours. Referring to its roots in the pacts to provide coal to the post-Second World War industry, one headline said energy was once again a foundational concern. After all, the EU was brought together by coal – and so, it could be broken by gas. Or the lack of it.

Chosen as the site of the next meeting was Moldova, which said the announcement was “a sign of support we value highly", according to President Maia Sandu. Moldova is a country affected by the spillover from the Ukraine war, and the most immediate challenge facing Europe is that war and how to handle it. The discussions in Prague set a key baseline for the next stage. With Russia carrying out a mass mobilisation within its population, the Europeans are scrambling to provide more arms to their Ukraine allies.

From next week's annual World Bank meetings in Washington to a Berlin EU/G7 summit at the end of this month, the focus will be on Ukraine's reconstruction and redevelopment plans. All sides know the stakes in this. The Europeans are wary that Washington's generous support for Kyiv will start to see eyes on them from the US for a commensurate commitment. The mistakes of past reconstructions such as those in the Western Balkans after the 1990s are already raked over in efforts to learn lessons.

Big challenges and the constant destabilisation of events mean that Europe is compelled to act together. Those would-be rivals are already formed up. The many independent nations need confidence that the Europeans can respond to their troubles.

Published: October 10, 2022, 4:00 AM
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