EPC: the new kid on the block?

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The original version for a European Political Community, or EPC, goes back – believe it or not! – to a failure story of the early Fifties in the budding European integration of these times. Back then, the Paris Treaty establishing a European Defense Community (EDC) failed to get ratified by either France or Italy on May 1952; so the saving-face trick was imagined, to go for a sort of “fuite en avant” based on the pre-existing European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) of 1951 and the stalled EDC with an umbrella European Political Community. At the end of the day, neither did the EPC take off. So, 70 years later, the basic concept for a European Political Community, along with the abbreviation, was retrieved by Emmanuel Macron – and had its debut in Prague, close by the crypt for the Bohemian Crown Jewels of the Prazsky Hrad/Prague Castle, one of the seats of the Holy Roman Emperors, “a place where one meets with distilled history”.

That much for Mitteleuropean connotations. In a more contemporary reading, the EPC managed to raise more questions than it proposed answers to. In no way should the new construct – so goes the EU orthodoxy-based argument – get involved in existing European integration mechanisms. Nor should it get into it the ambition of acquiring the likes of Secretariats, buildings, chambers and the suchlike, lest it got entangled in turf wars with the European Commission, the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, the EU Presidency, the European Parliaments’ own Standing Committees etc.

The current-affairs context of the Prague EPC meeting – that is, the ongoing Ukraine conflict – gave the new project’s organisers a convenient , geopolitically important-sounding mission: the EU “27”, along with 17 further countries ranging from the (post-Brexit) UK to awkward ally Turkey, with the Western Balkan countries not to miss and Ukraine (also Moldova and Georgia) held close, used the EPC platform to declare their firm opposition to the Russian invasion. But… was there really any need for such high-profile summitry to make that point, loud and clear?

So, looking back to Prague, one cannot miss a further potential function for EPC: an ongoing, organized get-together of leaders whose countries history has thrown together – General De Gaulle’s “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals”, with Russia pointedly missing – to keep track of issues and discuss possible days of decompression. “What use is there for such a talking shop?”. Well the very fact that in the EPC kick-off Armenia was there along Azerbaijan, so were also the Western Balkan countries, shows that something may be gained. Even the incident that pitted Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his verbal assault over Greek positions against Greece’s Kyriakos Mitsotakis tit-for-tat reply rectifying the situation – all of which occurred in front of the EPC heads of State or Government – had its usefulness. For leaders to realise the extent of tensions before effective flare-up occurs, such can be the use of careful summitry.

Would the EPC prove “enough” for a Europe wider than the EU”27” to avoid lapsing unwittingly into turmoil? Probably not. But it could evolve into a useful tool – provided some measure of political wisdom is invested. EPC as the new kid on the block has much to learn, but also some to offer.