Truss and Erdogan among 44 leaders to be invited to new European club

Inaugural Prague summit should include Britain, Turkey and Ukraine, diplomats told

Prime Minister Liz Truss played down the prospect of Britain joining the new group when she was foreign secretary. AP
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Britain, Turkey and Ukraine are among 44 countries set to be invited to a new pan-European leaders’ club meant to unite the continent at a time of war, diplomats have been told.

Invitations will soon be sent out for an inaugural summit in Prague, the brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron, where leaders will discuss the war in Ukraine and the ensuing energy and economic crises.

Briefed on the draft guest list this week, officials from the EU's 27 member states were told that a further 17 countries should be asked to attend including EU applicants such as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

As The National revealed last month, Czech diplomats organising the summit are still hoping to persuade Britain to take part despite new Prime Minister Liz Truss pouring cold water on the concept when she was foreign secretary.

Turkey’s inclusion was another thorny question, with EU diplomats privately debating whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, should attend the October summit.

Questions were raised about Turkey’s attachment to European values in what has been billed as a club of democracies, but Mr Macron said he favoured an inclusive group.

As well as the EU 27, the prospective guest list includes the six Western Balkan states of Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina and the three recent applicants Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

The other eight countries, according to a senior EU official, would be Turkey, a candidate country for decades, plus Britain, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Armenia and Azerbaijan, who are not seeking EU membership.

Notably missing are Russia and its ally Belarus, both under EU sanctions over the war in Ukraine. Russia was excluded from another pan-European body, the Council of Europe, in March.

The leaders will discuss “strategic issues of common interest for the European continent” including security, energy and climate in two plenary meetings and a series of bilateral discussions, another EU official said.

The summit is planned for October 6 and will be held back-to-back with a meeting of EU leaders the following day, with potential guests such as Britain departing after a closing plenary dinner.

Ukraine and others have expressed concern that the new group is meant as a pale imitation of full EU membership, meant to mollify them while they sit in the EU waiting room.

But the official said the so-called European Political Community would be “no replacement to enlargement or EU policies” and that countries in and outside the EU would share ownership of the new bloc.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna likewise said last week that the group was not "a substitute nor an alternative, but will respond to the urgent need to manage together the challenges that concern the entire European continent".

Mr Macron pitched the proposal in May as a way to “unite the European family” in the shadow of the war in Ukraine.

He has repeatedly made clear that he would like Britain to take part despite lingering tension between the UK and its neighbours over migration, fishing and Northern Ireland since Britain left the EU in 2020.

However, Mr Macron’s claim in June to have piqued the interest of former prime minister Boris Johnson was played down by the British side and notably by Ms Truss, who said Nato and the G7 were “the key alliances” for the UK.

Ms Truss’s relationship with Mr Macron got off on the wrong foot after she said during the Conservative leadership campaign that the jury was still out on whether he was a friend or foe.

A visibly dismayed Mr Macron said he regarded Britain and its people as a friend “regardless of its leaders, or sometimes in spite of its leaders and the little mistakes they may make”.

Updated: September 08, 2022, 10:27 AM