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EU hopeful Moldova hosts European leaders in strategy summit

Bernd Riegert in Chisinau, Moldova
May 31, 2023

Leaders of the European Political Community — all European states with the exception of Russia and Belarus — are meeting in Moldova to discuss strategy over the conflict in neighboring Ukraine.

Two women speak to a crowd holding EU and Moldovan flags
The European Political Community is meeting in Moldova to discuss the war in UkraineImage: Vladislav Culiomza/REUTERS

Forty-seven heads of state and government are meeting at Mimi Castle, a wine estate southeast of the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, for what promises to be an exciting day for the second poorest country in Europe and one of the most recent to receive EU candidate status.

The second European Political Community (EPC) summit since its founding last year poses one of the largest logistical challenges that Moldova, a small nation wedged between Romania and Ukraine, has ever encountered. 

All the political problems that leaders have been wrestling with since 2022 have converged in Moldova, whose government is worried it will be the next target for Moscow's aggression if Russia prevails over Ukraine. One pro-Russian region —Transnistria — already declared its independence from Moldova in 1992, and has been occupied by Russian "peacekeeping" troops ever since. Despite this frozen conflict, the EU has expressed its willingness to admit Moldova into its fold along with Ukraine — one day.

United against Russia

These are the topics on the agenda: Russia's war on Ukraine, EU enlargement and intensified cooperation between all European countries — apart from Russia and its close ally, Belarus.

Since the founding summit in Prague last October, participating members have said the new format is useful. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called it an "innovation," and at the Council of Europe summit in Iceland in May he praised it as a well-designed forum that allowed exchange without the pressure of committing any formal decisions to paper.

Speaking in Prague, French President Emmanuel Macron, who introduced and implemented the format, even went so far as to anticipate that it could be an instrument to prevent civil war, which he described as the "childhood disease of Europe."

EU aspirant Moldova prepares to host major summit

No alternative to EU membership

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has warned that the EPC could not become another waiting room for EU candidate, and stressed that accession talks needed to continue regardless. Negotiations are currently underway with Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and North Macedonia, while Bosnia-Herzegovina is a candidate for accession talks. Kosovo and Georgia are only potential candidates.

As part of his keynote statement to the European Parliament in early May, Scholz said he wanted to speed up the EU accession process. But for this to be possible, he said the bloc itself needed urgent reforms.

Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan have also been invited to attend the summit in Moldova and will be bringing their own set of tensions. The embattled Caucasian neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan will be meeting after recent talks in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin has long kept a foot in the door of the decadeslong conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, emboldened by his recent reelection, is expected to voice criticism of the EU, while still insisting on Turkey becoming a membership candidate.

For their part, Serbia and Kosovo are fighting over the status of the ethnic Serbian minority in northern Kosovo. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, the only former EU member, is still trying to find its post-Brexit footing.

Point of EPC a 'million-dollar question'

The few hours that leaders have at Mimi Castle won't be enough to develop real solutions for the many problems Europe faces, but they might suffice to gather some new ideas. What else would the new "debating society," as critics have called the EPC, be good for? After all, European leaders just met two weeks ago at the Council of Europe summit in Iceland, where they spoke about Russia's war. So what can the EPC do better?

Council of Europe summit focuses on Ukraine

"That is the million-dollar question," said Amanda Paul, a senior policy analyst at the Brussels-based think tank European Policy Center. "If you ask the countries participating, they are still scratching their heads."

Paul said for non-EU heads of states and government, this forum was a good opportunity to meet in person and discuss problems. "There needs to be something more with substance coming out of Chisinau than was the case in Prague," she told DW. "An objective or clear road map of what the EPC, or EPoC, wants to achieve in the short, medium, and long term. On security, it is a good platform, which brings together EU members and non-EU members."

Next meeting in Spain

The EPC did come to a decision at its very first summit in Prague: The third meeting is to be held in Spain in October, and the fourth in the United Kingdom next year. The EPC does not have any formal structures, using those of the General Secretariat of the Council in Brussels. It does now have its own Twitter and Facebook accounts, but not yet its own website.

Leaders from Ukraine, Britain and Turkey and their EU counterparts pose for a family photograph under a Czech national flag at the European Political Community Summit
At last year's inaugural European Political Community summit in Prague, leaders gathered for a group photoImage: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

Macron's vision for the EPC was not novel. In 1989 his predecessor, Francois Mitterand, proposed a similar community in response to the political upheavals in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. But the idea quickly fizzled out, as Mitterand wanted to integrate Russia, so Eastern European leaders politely declined the offer.

This article was translated from German.

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Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union
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