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What Did The First Meeting Of The European Political Community Actually Achieve?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (center-right), accompanied by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, chats with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (front left), Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (front right), and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (back right) at the European Political Community in Prague on October 6.

Leaders from nearly all European countries gathered in the Czech capital, Prague, on October 6 for the inaugural meeting of the European Political Community (EPC). Just another talking shop? Or a good forum for getting things done? RFE/RL looks at the main takeaways from a day full of meetings.

What's The Purpose Of The EPC?

Many, including some officials from various European countries, wondered beforehand what the point really was of this meeting. It was something of an unknown, or as one diplomat put it to me, "an empty canvas." Besides, weren't there already enough summits, institutions, and organizations bringing the continent's politicians together? Apparently not.

Judging from the background briefings and official statements during and at the end of a day full of plenary sessions, bilaterals, and roundtables, the verdict appeared to be that the EPC indeed was a good thing and that leaders liked the "freer" format in which everyone seemed to bump into each other in the labyrinth of corridors in the Prague Castle. No one questioned its utility -- at least outwardly.

So what is the EPC then? There was no final declaration; it still has no real structure, nor budget, or a secretariat, flag, or logo for that matter. "An informal platform" is how the host, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, described it and noted that it offered a space to discuss all sorts of pressing issues among countries that rarely meet. French President Emmanuel Macron, the driver behind the new community, called his oeuvre, "an opportunity to build a strategic intimacy in Europe."

Was Anything Really Achieved?

Roughly, three things. Firstly, that it makes sense to continue. Secondly, the locations of the next three meetings: the Moldovan capital of Chisinau in May 2023, followed by Spain later that same year, and then the United Kingdom in the first half of 2024. The hosting will rotate between the 27 EU member states and the 17 non-EU countries.

But the third, and most important achievement, was perhaps the meeting itself, or at least its symbolic value. Amid the war in Ukraine, the biggest on the continent for decades, everyone invited showed up even though they might not see eye to eye on many things. When historians look at the family photo taken in Prague, there will be two glaring omissions: Belarus and Russia. That image alone speaks volumes.

Attendees pose for a photograph at the Informal EU 27 Summit and Meeting within the European Political Community at Prague Castle.
Attendees pose for a photograph at the Informal EU 27 Summit and Meeting within the European Political Community at Prague Castle.

In terms of what was actually decided, it was all pretty vague. For the next summit in Moldova, the leaders will work on "common projects." While there was nothing concrete, Macron noted several spheres where he thought more cooperation is possible: securing key infrastructure such as pipelines, cables, and satellites; stepping up the fight against cyberattacks; creating a support fund for Ukraine; working out a common, pan-European energy policy; and looking into the possibility of having more university and student exchanges.

All Smiles...Or?

Considering that so many politicians showed up, it was a rather sedate affair. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, so often a troublemaker at these types of gatherings, was reportedly in a good mood and British Prime Minister Liz Truss, who isn't having the best political week back home, seemed to enjoy herself. She even declared that Macron was "a friend" after publicly doubting her relationship with the French president during the British Conservative Party leadership campaign in the summer.

But scratch a bit beneath the surface and there was a fair bit of tension. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki used most of his doorstep speech to slam Germany, saying that Berlin could not dictate European energy policy -- setting the scene for what might be a tense informal summit of EU leaders on October 7. At that meeting, everything from gas-price caps to energy-market interventions will show the real divisions within the EU.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was also not impressed by Croatia, accusing Zagreb of removing a paragraph from the EU's latest sanctions package in which Serbia and other landlocked Western Balkan countries would benefit from an exemption, allowing them to still receive Russian seaborne crude oil.

Charles Michel (left to right), Nikol Pashinian, Emmanuel Macron, and Ilham Aliyev met a number of times in Prague on October 6.
Charles Michel (left to right), Nikol Pashinian, Emmanuel Macron, and Ilham Aliyev met a number of times in Prague on October 6.

And Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn't miss an opportunity to stir things up a bit, using his speaking time at the common dinner to accuse Greece of escalating tensions -- to which Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reportedly snapped back that Ankara should stop challenging the sovereignty of Greek islands.

Armenia, Azerbaijan Keep Talking

It started with an early picture coming out of the summit showing the Armenian and Azerbaijan leaders, Nikol Pashinian and Ilham Aliyev, huddling together with Macron, Erdogan, and Orban. After that followed an officially organized meeting between the pair, Macron, and European Council President Charles Michel, who has been increasingly involved in trying to reduce tensions between Baku and Yerevan after recent border clashes.

That meeting lasted well over an hour, and they reportedly met again in the same format later. And after the final press conferences in the evening of October 6, when most other leaders were long gone, the very same quartet got back into the meeting room for another round. A source with knowledge on the matter who wished to remain anonymous told me that the South Caucasus pair in fact talked to each other many times on the edge of the summit.

After a long night, they came to an agreement that Armenia will facilitate a civilian EU mission for two months along its border with Azerbaijan, starting already in October -- a mission Baku agreed to cooperate with. Quite what change that will make in the tense relationship remains to be seen, but it is worth noting that both Armenia and Azerbaijan appear to recognize Russia's waning influence in the region and the need to look elsewhere for mediators.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.