An IGO is an intergovernmental organisation. This means that it is an organisation made up of sovereign states who agree to cooperate with each other on international issues. Importantly, unlike a supranational organisation, member states do not cede any of their own sovereignty in order to join. Since 1945 there has been a significant growth of IGOs. Notable examples are:
- The UN
- The IMF
- The WTO
However, the newest IGO is the European Political Community (EPC). So what is it, why was it formed and what purpose will it serve?
Why was the EPC formed?
The European Political Community was the brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron. The notion of this new platform for continental cooperation was first muted after the Russian Invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. At the time Macron was President of the European Council and wanted to coordinate a collective continental approach to Russian aggression. Whilst the European Union composes of 27 states, there are 44 states in continental Europe. The decision of Britain to leave the European Union in January 2020 also means that one of the biggest regional powers in Europe is not an EU member. As such, Macron wanted to create a cooperative body beyond the confines of membership of the European Union. Doing so would enable better cooperation on issues like physical security, energy security and the migration crisis.
For the EU more deeply there is a sense that the exclusivity of the club they are in has stopped what EU Commission President Roman Prodi called a ‘ring of friends’ emerging across the continent and the EPC is a chance to work towards furthering this. Secondly, the new forum may appease in the short-term the countries who wish, but have not yet been able, to join the EU:
Finally, it may specifically be a chance to bring Britain back into the European fold. Despite not being a member of the EU, Britain is an important strategic partner for France, Germany and other EU members and there is a danger that Britain drifts away from Europe.
For Macron himself, this is a significant diplomatic coup. The exit of Angela Merkel from the political scene has left a vacuum at the top of the European pecking order that Macron might be keen to fill.
Which states are members of the EPC?
Invitations to attend the first meeting in Prague were issued to all European States with the exception of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan (only 10% of which is continental Europe). Russia was excluded due to its invasion of Ukraine and Belarus has been excluded due to its explicit support for Russia (including allowing Russia to stage parts of their invasion from Belarus). Other European states that did not attend included the micro-states of Monaco, Andorra, San Marino and Vatican City – all of which may believe their interests were fully represented by other states.
How will it work and what happened at the first summit?
The organisation will be primarily summit based, with the plan being for two summits per year. In this sense, it has similarities with the G7. The first meeting was hosted in Prague in early October and the next will be hosted by Moldova. At the first meeting the discussion was almost entirely surrounding the War in Ukraine and the Energy Crisis. The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, addressed the meeting remotely.
How significant will the EPC be?
Firstly, it should be noted that this is the first time that the vast majority of European States have met to discuss political issues. Importantly, the creation of the EPC is a recognition that there is more to Europe than the EU and continental cooperation has to extend beyond the borders of the EU – particularly when there are some any issues on which EU and non-EU states are dependant on each other.
Some countries did express concern that the creation of the EPC may be an attempt to avoid EU enlargement, – a very controversial issue within the EU. Countries like Ukraine and Turkey have expressed their desire to join the EU and will not want the creation of the EPC to get in the way of the economic benefits that joining the EU would bestow.
Interestingly, as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was not a strong supporter of the EPC idea saying in June:
Liz Truss: We have not agreed to [join the EPC]. We see the key guarantor of security in Europe as being NATO and our aims and ambitions are the strengthen NATO and we see the G7 as the absolutely key economic alliance for us.
Tom Tugenhadt: So you don’t buy into Macron’s Political and Economic Community?
Liz Truss: No.
For Britain, such European projects have always been tricky. Since 1945 Britain has been consistently trying to balance three distinct relationships – that with Europe, that that with the Commonwealth and that with the US. Both NATO and the G7, which Truss referenced here, are dominated by the US and the US will be concerned about any new IGO which might in any way dilute its influence on the European continent. However, given the current energy crisis and the War in Ukraine (and perhaps more cynically the chance to rub shoulders and play a role on the continental stage given her domestic troubles) she was more than happy to attend.
How significant the EPC will be remains to be seen. It may well be that the unique current circumstances that the continent have faced may have over-exaggerated its potential. Yet, often relationships are deepened at times of uncertainty and the fact that Britain has already offered to host a future summit (given the PM’s misgivings) is very telling. It will be interesting to watch how the EPC develops.
The EPC is the newest IGO on the global stage and is the brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron. It brings together states on the continent of Europe as a counter-weight to exclusivity of the European Union. It’s first summit in the Czech Republic seemed to have been productive and was a positive start for the organisation.
IGO – An Intergovernmental organisation.
Sovereign State – A state which retains control over its own affairs.
Supranational – An international organisation in which member states have agreed to surrender some of their own sovereignty.
European Council – The executive body of the EU that directs its future agenda.
European Union – The supranational political and economic union made up of 27 European States.
Summit – An international meeting.
G7 – An IGO made up of the seven most influential liberal democratic economies.