[Article updated on October 6 at 16:15 with comments from French spokespeople on Ms Truss' presence]
British Prime Minister Liz Truss is today (October 6) attending a summit of European leaders in the inaugural meeting of what has been informally dubbed a new ‘club of European nations’.
The ‘European Political Community’ is a new forum through which leaders may discuss the challenges they collectively face, such as, for example, the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It was first proposed earlier this year by French President Emmanuel Macron, who suggested that it would enable EU states to engage in a broader, less binding partnership with neighbouring non-members such as the UK and Ukraine.
While the EU was initially founded on cooperation over trade, he said that this new “community” would share some of its “core values” in terms of politics, security, energy, transport, investment, infrastructure and “movement of people, especially our youth”.
He added that he hoped that it would, for example, enable Ukraine to seek cooperation with and protection from other democratic European nations without having to first become a full EU member, a process which takes years.
Meeting in Prague
The European Political Community (EPC) will have its first meeting in Prague today, with the war in Ukraine and the resulting strain on energy supplies both featuring on the agenda.
Every European country except Russia and Belarus will be present at today’s meeting, which is expected to discuss issues including energy and migration.
Ms Truss is expected to urge other European nations not to weaken their support for Ukraine, and to continue with the shift away from Russian fossil fuels even after the conflict is over.
Downing Street has also said that Ms Truss will talk to President Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, aiming to find a joint strategy for disrupting people-smuggling operations in the English Channel.
Future meetings are also expected to include discussions on population flows through countries such as Albania and France.
In addition, Ms Truss plans to talk about the development of new nuclear and offshore wind energy sources.
Ms Truss is expected to emphasise the UK’s continuing role in European matters, despite it having left the EU, Downing Street has said.
“The threat was left to fester for far too long. Now, at last, we are tackling Putin’s aggression head on,” she will say, according to The Independent.
“And we should take the same approach with other challenges before us – including long standing regional issues like energy and migration.
“Instead of the old approach which merely dealt with the symptoms, it’s time to address the fundamental causes.”
Truss initially sceptical
Ms Truss’ decision to attend today came as something of a surprise when announced last week, as she was initially sceptical about the idea of an EPC.
She said in July that there were too many organisations in Europe and that existing bodies should instead be made more effective.
Her Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has also said more recently that the UK does not need “to be a member of more institutions in the European sphere”.
However, concerns that the European Commission may play a key role in the activities of the EPC have been negated, which is said to have reassured the prime minister.
Her interest has also been stirred by the fact that the EPC appears likely to establish itself as a relatively informal intergovernmental organisation not run by a central secretariat.
However, Ms Truss only agreed to attend today’s summit on the condition that the second meeting will be hosted in London.
“She couldn’t not go,” a former UK diplomat told Politico. “And the only way to sell to the party a cave-in to a Macron agenda they mostly hate is to say: ‘I shall chair the second session here, and we shall turn it into what Global Britain wants’.”
The British government also reportedly asked that the name be changed to the ‘European Political Forum’ – possibly to avoid associations with the ‘European Community’, an earlier name of the EU – but other European governments appear to prefer the term ‘community’.
It remains to be seen how Ms Truss’ participation in the EPC will be received by the more Eurosceptic branch of her party, which largely backed her campaign to become prime minister.
However, currently it appears to be in favour of the idea.
“It’s entirely reasonable that if a forum is to be established to discuss issues of mutual interest in Europe … we should certainly look at it,” David Jones, a member of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs, told Politico.
However he added: “We’ve got to be very careful as to how this thing develops. We don’t want to start seeing supra-national structures being created. We don’t want to see a presidency, or a bureaucracy of the sort that we have in the European Commission.”
Improving relations with the EU
It is hoped that Ms Truss participation in this EPC summit will help to improve relations between the UK and the EU.
UK-EU talks on the Northern Ireland protocol are expected to resume this week after breaking down earlier this year, and the UK government seems to be beginning to engage with the bloc in a more collaborative fashion.
At the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, which ran from October 2 to October 5, Mr Cleverly said: “There is no version of the future where the UK is successful and the EU is not” and that the two would resolve issues surrounding the protocol “because that is the smart thing”.
“We want to find ways of working well with our neighbours and partners and friends in Europe,” he added.
The UK will also be attending an internal EU meeting on energy security as a third-country guest.
Writing in The Times, Ms Truss stated: “A post-Brexit Britain, as an independent country outside the EU, should be involved in discussions that affect the entire continent and all of us here at home.”
Elvire Fabry of the Institut Jacques Delors think tank, told AFP that Ms Truss' presence will help to enable the UK to maintain an "international position, a form of influence on the continent," and that the situation regarding energy supplies and bills in the UK means that "she needs this dialogue space".
An Elysée spokesperson also said: "We are not at all within a mechanism centred on the EU; we are in a strategic conversation where it is obvious that the British have a place."