By Pierre Tran
Paris – U.K. prime minister Liz Truss was among the 44 political leaders from Europe attending Oct. 6 the first meeting of the European Political Community (EPC), a summit seeking to boost solidarity following the invasion of Ukraine ordered by the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.
Truss was expected to meet French president Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of that gathering of heads of government and state, organized by the Czech Republic and held in the rooms of Prague Castle.
That bilateral meeting may open the door between London and Paris in the wake of tension after the Brexit departure from the European Union.
Only Belarus and Russia were off the invitation list for the EPC meeting, while Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky was attending by video link.
Not only was Truss attending the high-level meeting, but she had also penned an article for the U.K. daily, The Times, pointing out that “Security, energy and migration are three of the most urgent priorities for the British people, so they are top of my agenda too.
“That’s why I am travelling to Prague for today’s European leaders’ meeting.”
Security was the first item on Truss’s list, and the fact she turned up for the meeting signalled there was a perceived need to open up lines to Europe after a hard-line Brexit deal sought by London.
The backers of the EPC had sent the message out: the meeting was about Europe, not the EU.
Macron has worked for some time to set up some sort of institutional link with the U.K. in the realm of defense, and while the French leader has been careful to stay low profile, it was clear EPC is largely due to his promotion of the concept of European strategic autonomy.
The French leader has sought to set up a European defense and security council, seen as needed to maintain ties with the U.K. after Brexit, and that seems to have morphed to gathering leaders to the EPC.
There are leaders of the 27 EU member states, and 17 other European nations at the EPC.
Putin’s armed bid to seize Ukraine raised the risk level, and Macron called for creation of a European Political Community on May 9, the day that Russia marks victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 with a Moscow military parade. Macron made clear there was a welcome for the U.K. to the EPC.
Over in the U.K., there have been media reports of doubts on Truss attending the EPC, on fears it might be the European Union by another name. Anything that smacked of the EU was to be avoided, went the Eurosceptic thinking.
That the U.K. was paying the price of Brexit in terms of political and economic isolation was not to be spoken of.
The U.K. has offered to play host to the next EPC meeting in six month’s time, but that may be held in Moldova.
It was “too early to tell” whether Macron was friend or foe, Truss said when she was on a campaign to win votes from Conservative party members to be named prime minister.
The U.K. was “a friendly nation,” despite their leaders sometimes making mistakes in speeches on the soapbox, Macron said in response to Truss, adding that Britain was a strong ally for France.
That could be seen as something of a warm and fuzzy statement in view of London’s key role in helping Australia curtail French work on building a diesel-electric attack submarine for the Australian navy, and to opt for a nuclear-powered boat from the AUKUS alliance between Australia, U.K. and the U.S.
Truss won that leadership contest and moved into Downing Street. But public criticism and lack of support from Conservative members of parliament have just forced her to back down on a key item in a mini budget, namely a tax cut for the most wealthy, at a time when those on modest incomes are being hit by inflation and soaring energy prices.
A lack of funding details in the mini-budget led to a punitive plunge of the pound against the dollar and euro, and forced the Bank of England to announce an emergency fund to support government-issued bonds. The central bank on Threadneedle Street had to set up that fund in response to a massive sale of gilts in response to the mini budget, which imperilled pension funds.
Meanwhile, Germany will also be attending the EPC, at a time when Berlin is looking to take up a larger role in response to the Russian invasion. There is a view that Joe Biden may be in office now, but who is to say who will be the next U.S. president, and whether there will be a policy switch.
That is seen as calling for Germany, which may be a dedicated Nato partner, but also must pay close attention to building Europe.