“Europe is facing its biggest crisis since the Second World War” and “we must end our addiction to Russian hydrocarbons” came the message form Liz Truss today, as she met with a brand new political club of nations in Prague.
The PM seized the opportunity to reset relations with the EU as she travelled to the Czech capital for the inaugural European Political Community summit.
The EPC is the brainchild of French president Emmanuel Macron. Created largely in response to Russian aggression, the new grouping aims to act as a more inclusive European forum for discussion and co-operation.
Leaders of 44 countries from across the continent attended its first ever gathering today, including all 27 EU member states, Norway, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Western Balkan countries and a video link appearance from Ukrainian President Zelensky.
Talks have focussed on migration, the war in Ukraine and co-operation on energy security.
Although Truss, back in June as foreign secretary, initially snubbed the idea, she has since seemed keen to participate and has already offered to host next year’s meeting.
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It’s a sensible move. As Foreign Secretary James Cleverly put it yesterday: “There is no version of the future where the U.K is successful and the EU is not.”
Truss’ willingness – and enthusiasm – to partake in Macron initiative’s sends a signal that he is most definitely a friend not foe. And rebuilding ties with France is especially crucial given talks are finally set to resume this week on the Northern Ireland protocol.
What’s more, with the National Grid issuing a warning only today that households could face three-hour power cuts this winter, working alongside European countries to strengthen energy security is paramount.
In fact, the entire continent will be keener than ever to seek joint measures to bring down energy prices in light of Opec’s badly timed announcement.
Opec+ countries, which include Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Russia, are set to cut oil production by two million barrels a day. The White House has condemned the move, accusing countries involved of deliberately driving up prices and siding with Moscow.
Speaking of sides, not everyone attending the EPC today is firmly on Ukraine’s side. For the large bulk of the leaders present, another aim will be persuading the more neutral countries, such as Azerbaijan and Serbia, to take a harsher stance on Russia.
We’re yet to see if the EPC will prove a fruitful new forum for dialogue. While the breadth of the network is arguably its USP, there’s a risk that such a diverse cast of characters, with so many interests at play, may hinder any sort of progress.
If the summit turns out to be productive, it may take place up to twice a year.
Six years after the Brexit vote, Britain seems to be edging closer to the rest of Europe. But this time, it hopes, on its own terms.
As the PM stressed today, “We are taking part (in the EPC) as an independent sovereign nation, and we will act as one.”
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