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Europe Is Quietly Launching a New Political Club — With Hopes Brexit Turmoil Can Be Forgiven

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  • Europe is launching a new political community Thursday called the European Political Community.
  • Its launch has been relatively quiet amid uncertainty over how well the group will work.
  • If it continues, however, the EPC could be a way for the U.K. and EU to improve thorny post-Brexit relations.

Europe is launching a new political community today, but you'd be forgiven if you hadn't heard of it.

There's been a distinct lack of fanfare around the inaugural meeting Thursday of the European Political Community, or EPC. It's a grouping designed to bring together the European Union and 17 other European countries in what's been described as a "European security council."

The community, spearheaded by France's President Emmanuel Macron, is designed to foster better "political dialogue and cooperation" on issues of such as security, energy, and climate issues. The EU also says it should strengthen the "stability and prosperity" of the continent.

As well as the 27 members of the EU, the group also includes a post-Brexit U.K., Turkey, Ukraine and non-EU members of the Balkans, as well as Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Nonetheless, the bloc has been at pains to stress that the EPC is not a fast-track way to EU membership (some countries like North Macedonia and Montenegro have been in the "waiting room" to join the EU since pre-2010). It is also not designed to be or resemble a supranational European body, which would be of particular concern for the U.K.'s leadership as it continues to navigate post-Brexit waters.

Making the parameters of the European Political Community clear, the EU stressed in a statement that: "the platform for political coordination does not replace any existing organisation, structure or process and does not aim to create new ones at this stage."

U.K.-EU reset?

In a sign of ambivalence toward the EPC from Britain's government, until a few weeks ago it was unclear if the U.K. would even be a part of the EPC.

New Prime Minister Liz Truss (a "Remainer" before the 2016 Brexit vote, but now a self-declared "Leave" convert) is keen to burnish her Brexit credentials and is wary of raising the heckles of euroskeptic members of the ruling Conservative Party.

Nonetheless, the war on Europe's doorstep in Ukraine and the region's energy crisis have made the need for unity in Europe a pressing issue. The U.K. is also keen to stake a claim as one of Europe's top geopolitical powers.

Truss is due to address the inaugural meeting of the EPC in Prague Thursday, with the government saying that the "U.K. will play a leading role in the summit to drive international action on national priorities."

According to pre-released excerpts of her speech, Truss will tell the other 43 heads of state that: "Europe is facing its biggest crisis since the Second World War, and we have faced it together with unity and resolve." She will also suggest that, "we should take the same approach with other challenges before us – including long-standing regional issues like energy and migration."

With a nod to Britain's post-Brexit status (and keenness to show it has not been a failure), Truss is also expected to "set out that the U.K. has continued to play a leading role in Europe outside the European Union, demonstrated by the response to the invasion of Ukraine," the government said.

Despite fractious relations between the EU and U.K. since Brexit, and with outstanding issues over Northern Ireland yet to be fully resolved, there are hopes the U.K.'s participation in the EPC will help galvanize the group.

Analysts are uncertain over how the community will work in practice, however.

"Many questions remain about whether the format can be made to work and the amount of buy-in the EPC enjoys," Mujtaba Rahman and Emre Peker from the Eurasia Group said in a note this week.

"Concrete policy deliverables could also be inhibited by the fact the European Commission and [European] Council will enjoy a very limited role, " they noted, adding that even the scheduling of future meetings (and whether they will take place once or twice a year) remains unclear.

"The truth is that no one involved in the process really knows whether the EPC will be a success or what it could become. Officials involved in putting Thursday's meeting together accept that its ultimate goal remains very unclear and that whether it will even survive remains in doubt: 'Our first objective is to ensure it's a success; it will be if there's a second,' says one [official]," Rahman and Peker said.  

Still, they noted that the EPC is likely to facilitate a U.K.-EU "reset" and could mark the beginning of more constructive ties between the two sides.

European speed-dating

Prof. Richard Whitman, associate fellow of the Europe Programme at Chatham House, described the EPC as a "large-scale speed dating exercise."

"This is a new organization and I think the question will be whether those 44 individuals have enough in common to take it forward.  They've got two issues they're going to talk about, completely informally with no officials in the room, they're going to look at security in Europe and the economy, climate and migration, so they're really big issues but … in a pretty intimate setting," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" Thursday.

Despite the relative intimacy of the meeting, Whitman said the EPC was a "very disparate grouping."

"A third of them are not members of the EU and of that grouping some don't want to join the EU, so it's not just an EU-focused project. But it is a disparate group of states — some of them are major energy producers, like Norway and Azerbaijan, and others are major energy consumers, like the larger European economies," he added.

Nonetheless, he said the EPC could represent "the start of a journey" and, given the exclusion of Russia and Belarus, whether Moscow and the ongoing war in Ukraine was an issue that bound or divided the nations remained to be seen.

"What stands out is that it's a conversation between all European states apart from Russia and its close ally Belarus so will that lead to something? Do they have the same perspective? Not quite, but clearly Russia is driving a lot of the bigger discussions in Europe because of its war with Ukraine," he added.

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