- Hans Weber
- November 25, 2022
Explainer: European Leaders To Meet In Prague To Discuss Ukraine War, Hard Winter Ahead
Prague will be at the center of European politics this week as most of the continent’s leaders gather for two meetings on October 6-7 to discuss the war in Ukraine and its implications on various policy fields. RFE/RL takes a closer look at what to expect.
The leaders from all European countries, apart from Belarus and Russia (as well as European microstates), will meet at Prague Castle on October 6 to discuss a raft of issues related to the security situation on the continent, with the war in Ukraine being an obvious backdrop.
The meeting is the launch of the European Political Community (EPC) — an idea first promoted by French President Emmanuel Macron in May.
The next day, October 7, will see the Czech capital host an informal EU summit at the same venue. Leaders from the 27 member states will talk Russia sanctions, the energy crisis, and what will likely be a tough winter ahead.
Who will be there?
Invites have apparently been sent to leaders of 44 European countries and, according to an EU diplomat not authorized to speak on the record, there has been “positive feedback from all of them, but some have not given a definitive answer.”
It is understood that Serbian President Alexander Vucic is hesitating, as is his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will address meeting participants via video link due to the security situation in his country and will instead dispatch the prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, to the Czech Republic.
It is notable that the “sherpas” — a wonks’ term for the main political advisers to the leaders of all 44 countries — already met in Brussels on September 29. So the prospect of all the leaders showing up is decent, especially given that foreign ministers are not allowed to act as a replacement. The deadline for an RSVP is also generous, up to when the meeting starts at 1 p.m. on October 6.
What exactly is the EPC?
Perhaps it’s best to start with what it isn’t. It does not replace any existing political organization, structure, or process and doesn’t aim to create a new one — at this stage, at least.
EU diplomats are at pains to point out the EU is just a facilitator, it isn’t an EU-driven process, and EU candidates and potential candidate countries in the Western Balkans and the eastern neighborhood need not fear it will replace the EU enlargement process.
There might not even be a final press conference after the meeting. So, what exactly is it then? Essentially it’s meant to be a new platform for European leaders to meet once or twice a year to discuss the pressing issues of the day.
Many are doubtful this is even needed considering there are already structures for just this purpose such as the Organization For Security And Cooperation In Europe and the Council Of Europe.
However, as one diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, put it: “Many things have started off with just a gathering. It’s the beginning of a process and then we have to see what follows.”
Will there be any concrete outcomes?
There will be a family photo, if that counts. Otherwise, the outcome is expected to be the meeting itself, which usually means a medium-sized nothingburger. But at a time when Russia has announced at least partial mobilization and is in the process of seizing parts of Ukraine after referendums rejected as a sham by Ukraine, the United States, and the United Nations, the very fact that nearly all other European leaders are getting together to meet in the same place is at least symbolic.
The day will start with a one-hour plenary session before the leaders are broken up into groups of 10-12 to discuss issues related to peace, security, and stability, as well as energy, climate, and the environment.
There might also be an ad hoc discussion on migration and mobility for those interested before a sizeable chunk of the afternoon is dedicated to various bilateral meetings. This might indeed be the most interesting part of the day with potential discussions between various Western Balkans leaders.
There could also be talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia, likely to focus on the recent border clashes and the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, with the possible participation of the French and Turkish presidents.
Another plenary will then take place over dinner before the meeting comes to an end.
An EU diplomat with insight into the planning says that “the whole idea is that it shouldn’t be too formal and strict and that everyone speaks with each other.”
The outcome, notes another EU diplomat speaking anonymously, is to bring “all European leaders on equal footing in the spirit of unity to foster political dialogue on issues and common interests” and that they should come with ideas and proposals for the next EPC meeting that should take place next year, preferably in a non-EU country.
What about the informal EU summit the next day?
Expect some tough discussions on the EU response to the war in Ukraine. It’s possible the latest EU sanctions package will be agreed before this meeting. While Brussels is likely to target areas such as Russian steel, wood, cigarettes, and cryptocurrencies, one of the issues proposed that probably won’t fly is an EU oil price cap.
Hungary has already signaled it will veto any new energy sanctions on Moscow and some energy-shipping nations are also not too keen. But expect heated discussions on this and on a potential price cap on gas with member states divided on whether to target only Russia, have a global price cap, or nothing at all.
There is also likely to be discussion and division over whether to welcome Russian draft dodgers or not, and if the next batch of financial aid to Kyiv worth 3 billion euros ($2.9 billion) should be in grants or loans.