“Strategic intimacy” was the prospect laid out by French President Emmanuel Macron in May 2022, when he proposed the European Political Community (EPC). It was to be a “new European organization” that would allow countries “that subscribe to our shared core values to find a new space for … cooperation” on politics, security, energy, infrastructure, investment, and migration.
At its first summit in Prague last year, the EPC delivered something closer to geopolitical speed dating, a convenient and worthwhile platform for free-flowing meetings between political leaders who might have little opportunity to meet otherwise. It featured modest diplomacy between Azerbaijan and Armenia, discussions between Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus, and some lobbying by Sweden and Finland over NATO membership. The only concrete decision was to meet in Moldova next year. The landmark event was the presence of the then British prime minister Liz Truss. The hardline Brexiter’s position was that all European foreign and defense policy questions should be solved either in NATO or bilaterally: no other multilateral framework was needed. Not anymore: the UK has agreed to host the next EPC summit early next year.
For “wider” Europe clearly has problems that cannot be solved by the European Union (EU) or NATO alone. Questions of energy infrastructure and the green transition, for example, or refugees, or digital security and freedoms, need the widest possible involvement, with countries such as Britain, Turkey, and Norway at the table. These issues fall far outside NATO’s mandate. Anything that binds Ukraine into European decision-making is welcome too.
The EPC’s second summit will be this week in Moldova: a rare and welcome chance for that country to enjoy the international limelight. Among the likely excitements will be the newly re-elected Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, catching up with his country’s allies and neighbors. Perhaps President Zelensky of Ukraine will succeed in charming the mercurial Turkish leader where others have failed.
But a pressing question for the EPC is about itself. Is it in effect an arm of the EU’s neighborhood policy: an elaborate anteroom for countries that may one day join the EU? Or does it have its own separate mission alongside the EU? More practically: should it continue to be run by a rotating presidency, or does it need a full-scale secretariat, or perhaps just a room in someone else’s office?
I have just co-authored a report on this for CEPA, the Washington, DC think tank where I am a Senior Adviser. Our strong recommendation is that in order to remain agile, inclusive, and effective, the EPC should remain organizationally and politically separate from EU institutions (a beefed-up rotating presidency, a small central office, and some specialist sub-secretariats will work fine). The EU has its own agenda, which is beset with political and institutional bottlenecks. The EPC can sidestep such constraints. It should have no connection with EU enlargement.
This is also the approach of the summit’s Moldovan hosts, the beleaguered pro-western government of President Maia Sandu. As we argue, “Moldova (like Ukraine) cannot afford to wait until it is an EU member to get the support it needs for its military, economic, and societal security. A green and resilient energy infrastructure, for example, is both a core feature of the EPC’s work and vital for Moldova’s future.
But the EPC’s top priority must be full Ukrainian victory and Russian defeat. Without that, destabilization on Europe’s periphery looms. It will harden borders, heighten tensions, and encourage countries to look inward, making the EPC’s other goals impossibly distant.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.