© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (not seen) on the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, September 26, 2022. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
By Michel Rose and John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) – UK Prime Minister Liz Truss’s resolution to hitch the inaugural summit of a pan-European grouping this week has given a lift to the initiative, a brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron that some have written off already as simply one other speaking store.
The summit in Prague of the European Political Neighborhood (EPC) will carry collectively the 27 leaders of the European Union with 17 leaders from the continent at present exterior the membership, together with Britain, Turkey, Norway and Ukraine.
Truss’s resolution to attend Thursday’s assembly provides Britain a chance to form a brand new European discussion board from the within after Brexit, and it might shift the highlight away from monetary and political turmoil at dwelling.
“The British took a really pragmatic tactic: should you can’t ‘kill’ the unusual initiative, it’s higher to have interaction deeply and to direct it in your individual method,” a European diplomat instructed Reuters.
Diplomats say the EPC’s function is way from clear, and plenty of doubt that, with so many across the desk – foes in addition to buddies – it’s going to final, although it’s going to handle points that preoccupy all of them: vitality, safety and immigration.
A key intention for Macron is to embrace EU candidate international locations which are shedding endurance ready for membership of the bloc, and in doing so counter makes an attempt by Russia and China to realize affect within the continent’s southern and japanese fringes.
“One of many factors is to have the ability to inform Kosovo and Albania we will do issues with them, and so they do not should rely solely on Russia and China for funding,” a French official stated.
Macron worries that the lengthy highway to assembly EU membership standards might discourage Western Balkans nations, boosting populists and euroscepticism.
The French additionally assume you will need to have a discussion board to debate safety with Britain, Europe’s different massive army energy, or vitality with Norway, which is at present serving to Europe wean itself off Russian fuel.
Nonetheless, Macron’s lofty beliefs a few glad “European household” are usually not extensively shared.
His proposal was initially seen with suspicion by japanese European international locations, and Ukraine particularly, who suspected it was a ploy by France, lengthy reluctant to confess extra international locations into the EU, to maintain them in a kind of “purgatory”.
French officers deny that is the case and have gone out of their method to reassure them.
“Firstly we had been afraid the EPC could be an alternative choice to EU membership, however because it develops now, I do not assume so,” an japanese European diplomat stated.
Expectations stay low, nonetheless.
“Will probably be simply one other ‘blah blah’ discussion board to debate … however after a number of conferences it’d end with none massive success,” the japanese European diplomat added.
“There are too many international locations with too many pursuits … How do you’ve gotten Serbia and discuss Russia? How do you’ve gotten Turkey and Greece/Cyprus collectively? Tips on how to have Armenia and Azerbaijan on the identical desk?”
France is conscious that, with out a clear agenda, many really feel the summit will quantity to little greater than an enormous household photograph of leaders at Prague Fortress.
Nonetheless it was happy that Ukraine has provide you with proposals on what the EPC ought to seem like, in addition to Moldova, which has supplied to host the second summit of the grouping.
One other French diplomat stated some concrete initiatives might emerge from the discussion board, together with college cooperation following Britain’s exit from the Erasmus alternate programme, and even free telephone roaming fees throughout member international locations.
European diplomats assume the initiative additionally has the benefit of bringing Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan nearer to Europe and away from Russia.
The Turks, initially miffed by French hesitancy, ultimately acquired an invite and can attend, however warned the EU shouldn’t imagine Ankara will quit its hopes to hitch the membership sooner or later. It opened membership negotiations with the EU 23 years in the past.
Forward of the Prague summit, some European diplomats recalled one other French initiative, launched with fanfare over a decade in the past by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, that fell into oblivion.
“Just like the Mediterranean Union, it’s going to be a giant French venture with out massive success and actual influence,” one Baltic diplomat stated.