Analysis

ANALYSIS - Could 'European Political Community' be an answer to Europe's problems?

EPC should not be designed as an alternative to EU membership as this would undermine the Union in the eyes of those aspiring to join it

Assoc. Prof. Dimitris Tsarouhas   | 18.05.2022
ANALYSIS - Could 'European Political Community' be an answer to Europe's problems?

The writer is an associate professor at Bilkent University's Department of International Relations and holds the Jean Monnet Chair in EU Politics.

ISTANBUL

In early May 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested the creation of a “European Political Community” (EPC) to include EU member states and candidate countries, such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. All three states have become candidate countries following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The proposal also included the UK, suggesting that EU withdrawal is no impediment to close cooperation in the context of the proposed EPC. From energy to the environment and from security to transport policy, the EPC could be, according to Macron, a practical answer to the multiple challenges Europe is facing. Germany has cautiously welcomed the proposal, and it is certain that the EPC will be further discussed between the two governments and beyond. Is such a community, however, realistic? Plus, what would be the consequences of its formation?

Why did France make the proposal?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the EU’s security agenda and has forced it to the forefront of the debate on dormant issues. The western orientation of Ukraine is no longer a matter of backdoor diplomacy but the professed desire of a government that enjoys unprecedented support from its besieged population. The EU institutions could not deny Kyiv’s membership application at this moment, and Paris is aware of that.

On the other hand, France and some other EU member states -- such as the Netherlands -- have been, and remain, reluctant to allow enlargement to go ahead. They argue that the 27-member Union is already dysfunctional, and further enlargement will only slow down the institutions, as well as reduce the Union’s value-added in the eyes of citizens. For this reason, France has proposed a new enlargement methodology and, along with the Netherlands, it blocked the accession talks of Albania and North Macedonia in the past. Moreover, Macron is facing a parliamentary election soon: The presidential election results and the strong showing of Marine Le Pen indicate that Euroscepticism remains popular in France. Macron's suggestion implies that the EU needs more internal reform before further enlargement, a long-standing argument expressed by Paris in the past.

Will the EPC come to see the light of day?

This is very doubtful, as two similar proposals have failed before. A European Political Community was first suggested amid the Cold War, aiming to create a united Europe by the original six members of the Union and inspired by Italy’s federalist Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi. It failed as soon as the French Assembly defeated the proposal to form a European Defense Community in 1954 and was never discussed again.

In 1989 French President François Mitterrand sought to create momentum around the idea of a European Confederation. No progress was ever made, as Germany focused on reunification and European integration, and Eastern European states -- just like Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova today -- concentrated on the big prize of EU membership.

Although it is true that Russia’s war in Ukraine has vaporized the sense of security that Europe had experienced after the end of the Cold War, a European Political Community is currently accompanied mainly by questions rather than answers. Is it going to be a substitute for EU membership, or can it also be framed as the first step towards it? Is it meant to include candidate countries such as Albania or North Macedonia, or is it designed for more recent applicants whose security is visibly threatened by Moscow? Will it necessitate the formation of other institutions, or will it be limited to summit-level meetings between leaders to coordinate policy?

EPC should not be an alternative to the EU

Answers to the above questions will determine both the feasibility and reach of the proposed Community. The EU cannot get away from the unanimity problem in foreign and security policy, which undermines its voice in the world and ability to act swiftly whenever crises emerge unless it changes its Treaty. If the proposed Community is conceived as a flexible European response that includes but goes beyond member states, it might be a significant step politically, maximizing the collective weight of Europe and bringing together EU members and non-members alike.

However, early reactions suggest that this is a rather optimistic assessment. Ukraine has already signaled its displeasure with the proposal, seeing it as an attempt to delay its accession to the EU. Once its concrete structure is presented, such a community can be useful only insofar as it acts as a high-level forum of policy coordination for EU members and institutions with other European states interested in joint action and practical solutions to supranational challenges. It cannot and should not be designed as an alternative to EU membership, as this would undermine the Union in the eyes of those aspiring to join it and deal a heavy blow to the soft power credentials that Brussels has long tried to cultivate and encourage.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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