The French President’s new political club had its first meeting in Prague on Thursday. EU leaders were joined by 17 European countries’ heads of state and prime ministers for the new group aimed at highlighting the continent’s unity against Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
But the political project lacked a clear purpose, except for President Macron’s ambition to assert France as the dominant power on the continent.
According to Dr Alan Mendoza, Executive Director of the Henry Jackson Society, the club should be taken by UK Prime Minister Liz Truss as an opportunity to “act as a bridge” for free democracies.
He told Express.co.uk: “The trouble with the European Political Community (EPC) is that it’s much clearer about what it isn’t than what it is. It’s an alliance of likeminded democracies forming a united front against Russian aggression, but it’s not a NATO replacement. It is an expansion of European influence eastwards, but it is not a ‘waiting room’ for new members states. With all these contradictions, it is quite legitimate for some to question what the actual point of this ‘club of nations’ is.
“What is clear is that the EPC is Macron’s attempt to assert France as the dominant power on the continent. Therefore, it is essential Britain plays a leading and vocal part of this community, not only to assert the interests of the UK but to act as a bridge between this ‘club’ and free democracies around the world, especially the US.
“In her speech to Conservative Party Conference, Liz Truss laid out a robust approach to foreign policy, a staunch defence of free democracies and a determination to stand up to aggressors. The measure of her success will be bringing other nations round to this point of view. Obviously there will be little concrete action agreed at the EPC, but if the mood music from countries such as Turkey and Serbia starts to shift to a more pro-Western stance, then the Prime Minister can take this as a win.”
Ms Truss and President Macron had a bilateral meeting in Prague on the fringes of the EPC summit.
Ahead of the meeting, the Prime Minister said Mr Macron is a friend of Britain, having declared earlier this year while campaigning to become leader that the jury was out on whether he was a friend or foe.
President Macron replied in kind and said he was “very happy” to see Ms Truss in Prague and that he hoped it would mark a new start for relations between Britain and the EU after Brexit.
“This is an island, but this island didn’t move from the continent,” President Macron said in English. “I really hope this is the beginning of the day after.”
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The two leaders met for scheduled talks shortly after her comment, and agreed to take forward a “renewed bilateral agenda,” according to a joint statement.
“The President and the Prime Minister reaffirmed the strong and historic ties between their two countries,” the statement said, announcing an agreement to hold a UK-France summit in 2023 in France.
Historically complicated relations between Britain and France have become more tense ever since Britain left the European Union in early 2020, inflamed by disputes over control of border posts and the flow of migrants crossing the sea from Calais to southern England.
“I work very, very closely with President Macron and the French government and what we’re talking about is how the UK and France can work more closely together to build more nuclear power stations, and to make sure that both countries have energy security in the future,” Ms Truss said. “We’re both very clear: The foe is Vladimir Putin.”
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Her initial remarks in August, made during the campaign to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, played to Anglo-French rivalry and drew cheers from an audience of members of the governing, eurosceptic Conservative Party.
But they drew a cool response from the French leader, who said Britain was “a friendly nation, regardless of its leaders, sometimes in spite of its leaders.”
The two subsequently met in New York, after Truss became prime minister, where President Macron said there had been a desire “to re-engage, to move on and to show that we are allies and friends in a complex world.”
The joint statement issued after Thursday’s meeting included a recommitment of support for a nuclear power station in England built by French firm EDF, affirmation of their commitment to supporting Ukraine and a promise to work more closely on tackling cross-channel migration.