Europe’s new club meets without Russia
The European Union and its neighbours from Britain to Turkey met on Thursday to discuss shared security and energy problems stemming from Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in a rare and symbolic summit of 44 European countries – but not Russia.
The Prague gathering is the inaugural summit of the European Political Community (EPC), a format that is a brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron and brings together the 27 European Union members with 17 other European countries.
Some of them are waiting to join the bloc while another, Britain, is the only one ever to leave it.
“All those who are gathered here know: Russia’s attack on Ukraine is a brutal violation of the peace and security order that we had over the last decades in Europe,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
“We don’t accept that part of a neighbouring country is annexed.”
His comments were echoed by Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, as well as the top EU diplomat, Josep Borrell.
“This meeting is a way of looking for a new order without Russia. It doesn’t mean we want to exclude Russia forever, but this Russia, (President Vladimir) Putin’s Russia, does not have a seat,” said Borrell.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss, after meeting the summit’s host, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, stressed their “strong agreement on the importance of likeminded European democracies presenting a united front against Putin’s brutality”.
Her decision to attend the summit left some hoping for a warmer tone between the EU and London after Brexit, where the two are still in disagreement over trade issues around Northern Ireland.
The gathering at the sprawling Prague Castle is seen by its advocates as a grand show of solidarity for a continent mired in multiple crises from the security fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine to dire economic consequences including an acute energy crunch.
Macron said his priority was to build more electricity connections in Europe, and lower gas prices.
“We share a same space. Very often, the same history. And we are meant to write our future together,” he said. “I hope we will be able to get common projects.”
Beyond lofty declarations, there were doubts about the forum’s concrete goals and actions.
Latvia’s Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said no decisions were expected at the symbolic gathering the EU had pitched as only an “initial exchange” of thoughts.
“The primary goal is that we all come together because Russian war in Ukraine is affecting all of us in the security sense and also through our economies, through the rising energy costs. The only way to handle this is working together,” he said.
Some dismissed the EPC swiftly as just another talking shop, one that will be difficult to manage not just because of its size but also because of its diversity and the traditional rivalries between many of its members, from Armenia and Azerbaijan to Greece and Turkey.
The 27 EU countries will go on to meet on their own on Friday, with tensions playing out over Germany’s 200 billion euro ($197.50 billion) energy support package that many of its peers see as damaging competition on the bloc’s single market.
In their meeting, EU countries will look at their differences about how to cap gas prices to contain soaring energy costs that are harming the post-COVID economic recovery.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Michel Rose, Robert Muller, Jan Lopatka, Michel Kahn, Jason Hovet, Andreas Rinke in Prague, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Writing by John Chalmers and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Josie Kao, Frank Jack Daniel and Frances Kerry)