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
  • The presence of Truss gives hope for better relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom
  • 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 bloc while others, Britain, is the only country it has ever left.

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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.

“This meeting is a way to search for a new order without Russia,” said Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief, adding that Moscow may not always be left out but for now, President Vladimir Putin’s Russia “has no seat.”

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 move to ensure 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 Ukraine.

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 the summit left some hope of restoring ties between Brussels and London, building on a warmer tone in recent weeks in the standoff between the two sides over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade arrangements.

After meeting with the summit host, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, the Truss emphasized their “strong agreement on the importance of like-minded European democracies representing a united front against Putin’s brutality”.

An EU official said Truss’ participation was positive.

“I think the impression is very positive that the UK has been involved in those issues: security, stability, economy, immigration, supply and support for Ukraine,” the official said.

Talk shop?

Russia’s war in Ukraine is sure to remain the focus of the new club as EPC leaders are likely to meet next time in Moldova, Ukraine’s small and turbulent 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, Borrell said clarity is still required about the basic rationale for the forum, the forum’s eventual membership, its relationship to the European Union, how it should make decisions, and even whether it should have its own budget.

The leaders of the 27 European Union countries are due to meet alone on Friday in Prague. Tensions will erupt 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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Additional reporting; Written by John Chalmers and Mark Heinrich

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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