The Chisinau Summit: A Litmus Test for Moldova and the EPC
The European Political Community (EPC) is the new kid on the European block. Questions linger on what the initiative is exactly about, its institutional status, and potential policy outcomes. But in times of war, gathering 44 heads of states and governments for a brand new format in Prague last October is undoubtedly a success. By organizing the second summit in one of the most fragile European countries on June 1, only miles away from war-torn Ukraine, the EPC is raising the bar a notch higher.
For Moldova, the logistical challenge is so immense—it is the most important international event since its independence—that a nice family photo will be a major success. The Chisinau Summit already has a symbolic value underlining the commitment and support to Moldova’s European path, while sending a renewed message of European unity and solidarity to Russia.
For supporters and critics of the EPC, however, the gathering and the family photo will not be enough. The EPC needs to deliver initiatives and confirm its added value and strategic role if it is going to take root in the crowded European institutional landscape. The summit in Chisinau and the following one in Granada should demonstrate that the EPC can be a venue for progress on common challenges and find solutions for conflicts in wider Europe. It should also give a clearer sense of its strategic role in the European institutional mille-feuille, while increasing policy coordination between the EU and non-EU countries in the continent.
The EPC’s Origins
The idea was introduced by French president Emmanuel Macron in a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on May 9, 2022. European Council president Charles Michel had a similar idea. The aim was to have a platform that would gather all European nations, irrespective of their membership to the European Union or NATO, to have inclusive discussions on foreign and security policy, the economy, and connectivity issues affecting the continent.
Initial reception of the idea was rather chilly. The initiative was touted as a “waiting room” for countries whose odds of joining the European Union or NATO were seen as distant. Despite this, France and the EU institutions undertook an important campaign to explain the rationale and reassure that it was not a hurdle to accession.
The idea gained momentum and EU leaders formally endorsed the concept in June 2022. Shortly after, the Czech EU Council presidency agreed to hold the first meeting in Prague on October 6, 2022. The meeting displayed a tremendous amount of symbolic value and achieved several diplomatic successes, including starting a process between Armenia and Azerbaijan and staging the détente between the United Kingdom and France.
The key achievement of the EPC has been providing the intimacy of the free flow among all Europeans, through the ability to hold formal and informal discussions on an equal footing. Its bilateral and minilateral side meetings are aimed to contribute to conflict resolution. The next summit in Moldova can also bring a much-needed boost to the country's pro-European government and civil society.
A Summit in Moldova: A Political Blessing and Logistical Curse
Moldova is one of the most vulnerable European countries to Russian influence and has been heavily impacted by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The small country is home to a breakaway region along its border with Ukraine, Transnistria, that has strong Russia ties and permanently stationed Russian military presence. Moldova’s government, headed by Prime Minister Maia Sandu, regularly warns of destabilization attempts by Russia. It has shown tremendous resilience and gathered wide support from the European Union.
These strengths and weaknesses have all played out not only in the decision to fast-track Moldova’s EU candidate status in June 2022, but also to bestow on it the organization of the second EPC Summit. As the war in Ukraine still rages and with the looming Ukrainian counteroffensive, having 47 European leaders—Andorra, Monaco, and San Marino will join the second meeting—standing just a few miles from the embattled country will be of tremendous symbolic value, equal if not superior to the Prague photo.
For Moldova, the photo opportunity is equally valuable to shore up flagging public morale, in the context of tense social and political situation. The country has never received such a high-profile event in its history; therefore, the summit will be a live resilience test. This is why the country is very much counting on EU institutions financial and logistical capacities for the organization.
Regarding Moldova’s expected outcomes from the summit, the most important thing is to sustain solidarity. As a clear contribution to Moldova’s European path, a free-roaming deal is expected to be on the table. Since this is related to the EU acquis on telecommunications, it is a stark example of sectorial integration. Furthermore, ensuring the sustainability of the Solidarity Lanes initiative and increasing support to people-to people exchanges are also part of the package. Even if this is already significant, the EPC should deliver even more to convince the stakeholders of its added value.
What the EPC Should Deliver
Measuring this summit’s success might rely on three variables.
First, the EPC should be a place that increases convergence on divisive issues. Today there are four key areas covered by the EPC: (1) security and peace, (2) energy, (3) climate and (4) the economy. Connectivity as a broader issue is also added to the list. These are clearly overarching priorities across Europe, but it remains unclear how hours-long discussions among 50 delegations can lead to significant breakthroughs, besides having a clearer “continent-wide” picture. In the absence of institutional communication, observers will have to read through the leaders’ respective statements and comments to see the potential outcomes of the summit. For the upcoming summits, a publicly available discussion-shaper through a non-paper shared by the host country could ease the task.
Second, the summit should show that the platform remains a source of progress on conflicts and crises affecting European countries, especially for those who are not members of NATO or the European Union. Besides reiterating support for Ukraine and Moldova, the Chisinau Summit should, for example, be another opportunity to increase dialogue for Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Third, while remaining an informal platform for non-binding discussions, the EPC should show that it is not only an expensive and time-consuming talk-shop. For this, it should clarify ways and means to follow up on the breakthroughs resulting from its summits. This would require some financial means. Although the EPC is no substitute for EU enlargement or neighbourhood policy, non-EU countries are already integrated with the EU to various extents. The EPC could draw back to EU capacity and resources when necessary, and the United Kingdom could chip in to advance its own priorities in the continent.
The Road Ahead: A Noninstitutionalized Institution
The EPC already secured an additional year and a half of existence, with an upcoming troika of host countries: Moldova, 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 non-EU countries.
Flexibility and informality of the EPC should be preserved to cater to the highly volatile course of events, and to the priorities of host countries, in a spirit of co-construction. Concurrently, the EPC should display some degree of consistency and clarify its positioning in the European institutional landscape, notably with respect to the EU or NATO, but also with other pan-European organizations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) or the Council of Europe.
The EPC should have three core, longer-term objectives:
- Be the prime platform to rethink relations between EU and non-EU countries with a view to policy convergence through joint initiatives and socialization, irrespective of accession status and processes.
- Be the linchpin for informal and inclusive reflections on the future security architecture of Europe. This could bleed into the work carried out by the European Union, NATO or the OSCE, while taking on board the concerns of all European nations, on equal footing.
- Open a continental space that contributes to twenty-first century multilateralism and a European vision of a rules-based international order. The EPC could make up for the European Union’s long-lost normative ambitions and could serve as a more palatable, less politically charged venue to discuss democracy, rule of law, basic rights, and freedoms, including through open contradictory debates.
For such an agenda to crystallize, this will require building commonalities among the key stakeholders, including its initiator, France, upcoming host countries, and other key European capitals, especially those wary of French initiatives and its agenda. The United Kingdom will have an important role in this regard, as the most important non-EU European power, which has regained credence and trust especially with Eastern and Northern European partners thanks to its resolute support to Ukraine. As a strong Atlanticist, London can help alleviate fears that the EPC is a French Trojan horse to implement its controversial agenda of European strategic autonomy. As a former EU country, the United Kingdom can also provide reassurance of the intergovernmental nature of this initiative, as well as its disconnect with the enlargement process. Finally, in order to build consistency and ensure a better follow up from one summit to another, host countries should also work together in a spirit similar to EU Council presidencies’ troikas.
Mathieu Droin is a visiting fellow in the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Ilke Toygür is a senior associate (non-resident) with the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at CSIS.