Macron’s European Political Community brings in skeptical Ukraine and UK

PRAGUE — When French President Emmanuel Macron proposed the idea of ​​a “European Political Community,” bridging the European Union and an outer ring of like-minded democracies, he was met with skepticism. Ukraine’s leaders have said they want full EU membership, not second-class status. Britain’s leaders have said they do not want to re-enter the entanglements from which they have just emerged. Political commentators chastised Macron, saying he was once again seeking to become the leader of Europe.

And yet Macron’s vision came to fruition on Thursday, at least symbolically, as the leaders of the 27 EU member states joined delegations from 17 non-EU countries at Prague Castle. The gathering included representatives from most countries on the continent except Russia and Belarus.

“When you share a continent and you need to do things together, it is very important that these meetings take place,” Macron said at a press conference on Thursday.

Although no major decisions came out of the meeting and the leaders struggled somewhat to maintain a fully united front until the closing dinner, EU officials and diplomats said the presence of so many countries was, in many ways, the message.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a speech via video link, said the new group offered “not just another format for cooperation in Europe, but an extremely powerful opportunity to restore peace in Europe.”

While pleading for continued support for his country, Zelensky called Russian aggression an attack on Europe and its values.

EU leaders happy to pose with Zelensky, hesitant on Ukraine membership

“This is the Russian formula for war: kill, intimidate, repair threats to free states and their losses, destroy borders and bribe,” he said. “And each of these elements is anti-European. All are directed against Europe.

The EU granted candidate status to Ukraine in June. But the process usually takes years. All the legislation of a potential member must be taken over and brought into line with the standards set in Brussels. And Ukraine must prove that it has moved beyond a political record tainted by corruption.

Also addressing the Prague rally, new British Prime Minister Liz Truss, who had been among the skeptics of the European Political Community but wrote in a times op-ed that “it is right that we find common cause with our European friends and allies”.

Truss, a staunch Brexit advocate, has insisted Britain is not about to resume the relationship with Europe it had before the divorce.

“Today’s meeting is not an EU construction or an EU alternative,” she wrote. “It brings together governments from across Europe, around a third of which are outside the EU. A post-Brexit Britain, as an independent country outside the EU, should be involved in discussions that affect the whole continent and all of us here at home. We participate as an independent sovereign nation and we will act as one”.

In Prague, Truss spoke of the need for Europe to “continue to stand firm – to ensure that Ukraine wins this war but also to deal with the strategic challenges it has exposed”.

During his leadership campaign, Truss angered the French by saying “the jury is still out” on whether Macron counts as a “friend or foe”. Asked about it by reporters on Thursday, Truss said she considers him a “friend.”

Macron launched his idea of ​​a European Political Community for the first time during a speech to the European Parliament in May.

“This new European organization would allow democratic European nations that subscribe to our common fundamental values ​​to find a new space,” he said, citing possible joint projects in the energy, security or services sectors. infrastructure but also politically sensitive issues such as the free movement of people. people.

Some analysts have suggested the proposal is rooted in French resistance to EU enlargement – and could be used to side aspiring members. In 2019, Macron the government vetoed the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, arguing that deeper cooperation within the bloc should take priority over expansion. The French president also criticized the EU accession process for being ‘irreversible’ and for a ‘weird’ sequence that grants benefits such as free movement within the EU before accession negotiations actually begin.

At the same time, Macron has been a strong supporter of the European project and regularly speaks of “European values” – to counter far-right nationalism and illiberal tendencies within the EU, as well as external threats.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said on Thursday that as long as his country is not part of the EU, it is crucial to be close to the bloc.

Macron has regularly positioned himself as the voice of Europe. And he has more room to maneuver since Britain’s exit from the EU and the retirement of longtime German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who welcomed his sweeping proposals for changes to the EU in 2019 with a raise your shoulders.

In April, Macron was re-elected for another five-year term at the helm of the EU’s second-largest economy.

But some wonder if Macron has the political capital to bring European countries together in more than a symbolic way. The war in Ukraine reinforced his argument that Europe should become a bloc of “fully sovereign” nations. But Macron’s past efforts to get closer to Russia and his willingness to continue talking to President Vladimir Putin even after the invasion have damaged the French leader’s reputation in parts of Europe.

For now, the leaders have decided to keep the format. Moldova, a candidate for EU membership, will be the next host country, followed by Spain and Britain, officials said.

Noack reported from Paris and Bellack from Washington.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed decrees to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following referendums held that have been widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The answer: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and their family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday that Ukraine was seeking an “accelerated ascent” into NATO, in apparent response to annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on September 21 to call up up to 300,000 reservists in a dramatic attempt to reverse the setbacks of his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of over 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and further protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: Ukraine launched a successful counter-offensive that forced a large Russian retreat into the northeast Kharkiv region in early September as troops fled towns and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large quantities of military equipment.

Pictures: Washington Post photographers have been in the field since the start of the war. Here are some of their most powerful works.

How you can help: Here’s how those in the United States can support the people of Ukraine as well as what people around the world have donated.

Read our full coverage of the Russia–Ukraine War. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

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