The European Political Community (EPC) was established in 2022 as a forum for cooperation between European countries. Ahead of the next EPC summit in Moldova on 1 June, Sarah Wolff, Pierre Haroche, Helen Drake, Jorein Hendriksen, Basak Sendogan, and Gesine Weber argue the organisation could have a key role to play in the future of European security.
The piece was originally published on the 'EUROPP – European Politics and Policy' blog.
"Moldovan President Maia Sandu (R) gives a press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before the EPC summit near Chisinau, June 1. " Photo: Moldovan Presidency
Today, the European Political Community will hold its latest summit in Moldova. The EPC, which first met in Prague in October 2022, brings together both EU and non-EU states. This new format for cooperation offers members an opportunity to discuss the key geopolitical and security interests affecting Europe.
While nobody should expect the EPC to achieve major political or military agreements – goals that belong to the EU and NATO – it provides a forum where these issues can be discussed regularly, in a spirit of openness. The hope is that it will help build coalitions and provide a diplomatic hub for discussing the future of European security.
One frequent criticism of the EPC is that there are already too many continental organisations, such as the OSCE and NATO, which fulfil a similar function. However, the strength of the EPC lies in its lack of institutionalisation. The absence of joint statements, a secretariat and a permanent headquarters works to its advantage because this means it can act as a flexible forum for countries to discuss the future of peace and security in Europe in a way that goes beyond the work of the EU and NATO.
The EPC provides a unique opportunity for non-EU member states in particular to speak equally with EU leaders about foreign policy and security and to share their perspectives on the future of the European continent. At a time when western democracies are facing contestation, this is a unique advantage, notably for those countries in the Western Balkans affected by EU enlargement fatigue and attracted by Chinese and Russian investments and influence. The EPC can ultimately help foster ownership and socialisation around collective goals concerning the future of Europe’s security architecture.
Examples of the topics where the EPC could make an impact include setting peace plans for Ukraine, potentially building on the ten-point peace plan put forward by Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky. They might also include foreign interference in Moldova, which is particularly important given the location of the 1 June summit. The EPC could also help to solve some of the bilateral disputes that have derailed the EU’s enlargement process, such as the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia.
But there is scope for the EPC to go further than this and solve bilateral disputes that directly threaten peace in Europe. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are members of the EPC and the leaders of the two countries – Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev – met with President of the European Council Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron at the end of the first EPC summit in Prague. The outcome of this meeting was an agreement to facilitate a civilian EU mission alongside Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan. This gives some indication of the potential for the EPC to effect real change.
Alongside the EPC’s informality, there is a commitment to treat all members as equals. This inclusive approach allows countries like Turkey, who may no longer aspire to join the EU, as well as the United Kingdom, with its shared historical ties as a former EU member state, to actively pursue cooperation and deliberations with both EU and non-EU countries.
This flexibility extends to membership of the EPC. Members have the freedom to join and withdraw from the organisation at their discretion, which prevents complications and reduces the scope for conflict. While there is some risk this could lead to the rapid dissolution of the forum in future, it effectively mitigates much of the potential drama associated with membership.
The EPC’s flexible format has particular advantages for relations between France and the UK. It has received a positive reception in both countries and could prove to be a valuable communication channel for the two states to discuss European matters outside of the framework of the EU. Although the EPC was not initially established for this purpose, it may ultimately offer a new framework for developing Franco-British collaboration.
In 2024, the UK is set to host the fourth EPC summit. The British government will have responsibility for setting the meeting’s agenda and structuring the event. There is an opportunity for France and the UK to collaborate on the definition of themes and thereby strengthen their relationship. In this sense, the EPC could eventually develop into an informal and flexible vehicle for helping the Franco-British relationship to grow.
The issues in this article were discussed at a meeting of the Bayeux network, a diverse group of academics, think tankers and policymakers who have come together with a shared vision of promoting scientific excellence, fostering cooperation and enhancing diplomatic understanding. The network also aims to serve as a laboratory of ideas on Franco-British relations and to deepen our understanding of the UK’s interactions with the European Union and regional organisations, as well as multilateral and global challenges.