The new 44-nation European club underscores Russia’s isolation

  • 43 European leaders gather in Prague for a symbolic summit
  • Energy and security are on everyone’s mind
  • Truss decides Macron is a ‘friend’, and the mood rises after Brexit
  • Doubts about the feasibility of broad European coordination
  • EU 27 to follow up on the special summit, gas cap on the list

PRAGUE (Reuters) – European Union leaders and neighbors from Britain to Turkey met on Thursday to discuss the security and energy emergencies that have plagued them all since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a symbolic summit that underlined Moscow’s isolation.

The rally in Prague was the inaugural meeting of the European Political Group (EPC), the brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron, bringing together on an equal footing the 27 member states of the European Union and 17 other European countries.

Some countries are waiting to join the European Union while another, Britain, is the only country that has ever left it.

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Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen tied the knot with a crucial parliamentary debate at home, dropping the number of leaders to 43 from the originally envisioned 44.

The meeting in the old complex of Prague Castle was a grand display of solidarity for a continent mired in multiple crises – from the security fallout of the war in Ukraine to the energy crisis and a looming recession that dashed hopes for a robust recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic downturn.

“We showed very clearly the unity of 44 European leaders in condemning Russian aggression and expressing their support for Ukraine,” Macron told a news conference after the summit.

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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: “This summit confirms that Russia is completely isolated.”

Speaking at the meeting via video link, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the leaders to transform the new political community into a “European Community of Peace”.

“Let it be today the starting point. The point from which Europe and the entire free world will go to secure peace for all of us. It is possible,” he said, calling on the leaders “to direct all potential powers in Europe to end the war.”

In Prague, the spotlight was in particular on British Prime Minister Liz Truss, who – under pressure at home after just a few weeks in office – joined the podium with EU leaders.

Her decision to attend has left some hoping to reset relations between Brussels and London, based on a warmer tone in recent weeks in a standoff between the two sides over post-Brexit trade arrangements in Northern Ireland.

Truss, who announced earlier this year while campaigning for prime minister that the jury was out on whether Macron was friend or foe, told reporters in Prague that the French president was indeed a friend of Britain. Read more

The two leaders met for talks in Prague, and Macron later cemented the conciliatory mood, declaring: “I really hope this is the start of the next day.”

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Talk shop?

Russia’s war in Ukraine is sure to remain the focus of the new club as EPC leaders next meet in Moldova, Ukraine’s small and troubled neighbour.

However, it is not at all clear that the forum, which has already been dismissed by some as just another modern store, has a strong future.

Its sheer size will be a major obstacle to presenting concrete politics, as will its political and cultural diversity and traditional rivalries among its many members, from Armenia and Azerbaijan to Greece and Turkey.

In a blog ahead of the summit, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said clarity was still needed about the basic rationale for the EPA, its relationship to the EU, how it should make decisions, and even whether it should have its own budget.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the summit was a “very appropriate initiative” to discuss the problems of the European continent and find common solutions, but warned that the EPA should not become a substitute for countries hoping to join the European Union.

Ankara began membership negotiations with the European Union in 2005.

The leaders of the 27 European Union countries are due to meet alone on Friday in Prague. Tensions will play out over Germany’s 200 billion euro ($197.50 billion) energy support package, which many of its peers see as harmful to competition in the bloc’s single market.

EU countries will also try to work through differences on how to cap gas prices to contain the high energy costs that drive up inflation across the bloc.

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Separately, EU member states gave final approval to an eighth set of sanctions against Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine, but said that implementing a price cap on Russian seaborne oil included in the package requires more work.

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(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Michelle Rose, Robert Mueller, Jan Lopatka, Michel Kahn, Jason Hovet, Andreas Rinke, Gabriela Bazinska, Philip Blinkinsop, Alan Sharlish and Sten Jacobsen; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Alistair Bell

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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