UK Prime Minister Liz Truss confirmed her attendance at next week’s inaugural meeting of the so-called ‘European Political Community’, three months after telling domestic lawmakers that she had no interest in the new EU-organised format.
Initially proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, the initiative envisages a network of European democracies cooperating on transport, trade, infrastructure, and security, while facilitating easier cross-border travel. It would include EU hopefuls and non-members, such as the UK. The idea of a ‘European Political Community’ was endorsed by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen during her ‘State of the Union’ speech in September and is being organised by the EU institutions.
The organisation’s first summit in Prague on 6 October will occur the day before an EU leaders’ summit.
The UK was invited, along with representatives of Israel and the six western Balkan states and Turkey, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The EU’s 27 member states have also been invited.
In June, as foreign secretary Truss told House of Commons lawmakers that the UK was not interested in being part of the project, saying that London would prioritise its membership in NATO and the G7. However, officials in Whitehall are intrigued by the forum and are eager to shape its future and confirmed on Thursday following preparatory meetings that Truss will fly to Prague after attending her first Conservative party conference as party leader and prime minister.
UK officials are understood to have been swayed by the prominence of migration and energy policy on next week’s agenda and by assurances that the EU will not be actively involved. Security and cross-border travel are also at the top of the new club’s agenda.
UK officials are also reported to have offered to host one of the next summits of the forum though the Czech Republic, which holds the six-month EU Council presidency, is likely to host further meetings this year. In a nod to the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community, the UK is understood to have requested that the organisation be named the ‘European Political Forum’.
Truss’s attendance is an early boost to the format’s credibility and could also mark the resumption of closer diplomatic relations between London and European states nearly three years after leaving the EU. Despite this, there is still scepticism among many of Truss’s Conservative MPs about joining a new European organisation so soon after Brexit.
Meanwhile, it is unclear how a club including Turkey and Israel, who only restored diplomatic relations in August, and long-standing enemies Armenia and Azerbaijan, will be able to function and whether it will duplicate other international organisations such as the G20, Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]