Even Macron has realised that the EU can’t claim to speak for Europe – The Telegraph - 06.10.22

His new European club is a chance for a fresh start – and Britain should aim to stay at the heart of it says Fraser Nelson.


At first, Liz Truss dismissed Emmanuel Macron’s plan for a new club of European nations. There are already too many such talking shops, she said: why not make them work better? But Tim Barrow, the new national security adviser, changed her mind. Isn’t Brexit all about the need to co-operate more closely as free nation states? Isn’t this Prague summit a perfect chance to do just that? If this new group didn’t exist, he said, Britain would be lobbying to create it.


So the Prime Minister flew off yesterday for her first European summit: a genuine one, with 44 members rather than the subset of 27 EU states. At first, Macron envisaged a club of liberal democracies but then decided to let in the Serbs, Turks and (worst of all) the Azerbaijanis. A motley bunch, he thought, but this is soft power. A global war of influence is being waged and if dinner in Prague Castle moves them even a few inches away from Moscow’s orbit and towards the West, that would be worthwhile.


From the British perspective all this should be seen as a bonus, even a breakthrough. The EU has been quite defensive since the Brexit vote, talking as if it is the only forum to discuss the continent’s future. Macron now accepts the EU’s limitations. Its mishandling of Turkey and Ukraine led to exasperation and disillusion – not just among prospective member states, but existing ones. The accession process is too painful, too slow. The EU was in danger of having bad relations with all its neighbours, the UK very much included.


The European Political Community is the chance for a fresh start. It’s a club with no diktats, just a forum to discuss security, migration and energy – and there’s much to discuss. The new alliance was set not so much by Macron but by the spontaneous, bottom-up reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A normally divided continent suddenly discovered how much it had in common, as nation after nation offered to take refugees and send weapons to Kyiv – even at the cost of far higher fuel bills. It was a defining European moment.


But it was not, really, an EU moment. It was Britain that led the way in arming Ukraine, and the fuel crisis now puts Norway in central focus: Europe needs it to pump and export more. Cheap Turkish drones being sold to Kyiv are proving vital to the war effort (they get shot down quickly, so cheap drones are viable in a way that pricier Western ones are not). So it matters that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is happy to keep exporting them. Ukraine has been a reminder that non-EU countries are crucial in determining European affairs.


That’s why the summits of the new European Political Community will alternate between EU and non-EU member states. Moldova hosts the next one, then Spain, then Britain. The very existence of the new summit acknowledges that the EU’s ambition to speak for Europe is no more. Now, for the first time, the EU has gone out of its way to respect the concerns of non-member states and accept that their voice deserves to be heard just as loudly.


Macron also needs Britain. For all his frustrations with les Anglo-Saxons, he accepts that the UK is the only meaningful military partner for France and that countering Russian revanchism will require co-operation between them. “The French tried to leave us out in the cold after Brexit, but who else in Europe has a war-fighting military?” says one minister. “Macron is accepting that his huff hasn’t worked and that we Brits might have had a point about working together.”


As ever, Macron has a wider agenda. France has long wanted a lesser, separate, looser union in which to dump countries that it didn’t really want in the EU. In 1989, François Mitterrand proposed a “European confederation” intended as a banlieue for parking ex-Soviet states, even Russia itself.


In 2008, Nicolas Sarkozy launched a Union pour la Méditerranée, a diplomatic Club Med that took in northern African states. It has achieved nothing. Macron would doubtless love to relegate Hungary and Poland into this new, lesser union, so they can stop giving him headaches at EU summits.


So yes, this new club suits Macron’s purposes. But it also suits Britain’s. Boris Johnson recognised this instantly, saying he “claimed paternity” because it’s similar to his idea of recreating the Roman Empire’s Mare Nostrum. To Johnson, Brexit always was about making new alliances; not about hoisting drawbridges but going out and into the world. “We share the same continent and we face the same challenges,” said Charles Michel, the European Council president. Most Brexiteers would fully agree. The question always was about how to co-operate, not whether.


Macron’s earlier idea – to undermine Nato with a new European security alliance – fell flat. But this new club, which Britain only agreed to join a week ago, has none of the disadvantages of the earlier ideas. It’s very similar to what David Cameron asked for in his failed renegotiation talks: country-club membership, co-operation without the diktats. Being in Europe, but not run by Europe. By joining, Britain can help make sure it stays this way, rather than morph into an EU anteroom or sin bin.


There’s also a useful side effect: Truss’s last-minute backing of Macron’s summit was a bit chaotic: UK officials tried to change everything from her airport landing slot to the name of the gathering. But it all worked out – and gave the summit genuine pan-European heft.


It has gone down so well in Paris that there’s now talk of a coming breakthrough over the Northern Ireland protocol. “All we need to know is that your trucks aren’t going to Ireland,” a senior EU source says. “Then we can reduce the checks.” That was the case all along, but the goodwill was missing. It might very well be about to come back.


During the Tory leadership contest, Liz Truss undiplomatically suggested that she didn’t know whether Macron was a friend or a foe. But in accepting his invitation to Prague, she has shown a better diplomatic touch – paving the way for improved Anglo-French relations without any compromise on sovereignty. Last night, she upgraded him to “friend”. Joining his new club may come to be seen as one of the smarter diplomatic moves of her premiership.


https://www.telegraph.couk/news/2022/10/06/even-macron-has-realised-eu-cant-claim-speak-europe/


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Leaders assemble at the inaugural summit of the European Political Community in Prague - Credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP

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