Few will have heard of the European Political Community, which held its first meeting yesterday in the Czech capital of Prague.
However, the place was rich in symbolism. The city has long been the backdrop for spy thrillers, it was an interface between East and West in the years after the Second World War, until the Prague Spring of 1968 when liberalism was crushed by Soviet tanks.
So, having 44 Western European nations come to the inaugural meeting was a clear success – considering the EU started out with 27 nations as the “Big Six”, initially focused only on coal and steel.
There are bigger concerns now and bigger events that have helped to persuade so many states to heed French President Emmanuel Macron’s trumpet call, from the Balkans to Turkey and from Norway to the Non-Aligned.
The numbers show a widespread recognition of the need for a broad front that is not primarily a trading bloc like the EU, with its single market and common currency, nor a military alliance like NATO.
With the United States marginalized, it offers a new political palette viewed with some apprehension by Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation — which recently worked with China towards an Asian alliance with a first summit in Samarkand — on the old one silk road.
The Prague meeting was thus a counterweight, but one that emphasized not only France’s continuing weight as a diplomatically honest broker in international affairs – one that the UK threw off long ago – but also the division between democracies and dictatorships our crystallized continent.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dialed into a conference with colleagues and again earned the ovation he had received when he addressed the Dáil.
Of course, the large and curious crowd that had gathered in front of the Hradcany Castle could not see him. But they saw Macron arrive – and he received spontaneous applause from the public, unlike most other leaders.
Obviously, his line of communication to the Kremlin about the Ukraine invasion is considered important by the woman and man on the European street.
Especially Prague remembers. The Velvet Revolution of 1989 saw the expulsion of the Russians and the peaceful partition of former Czechoslovakia into separate nations. This all happened less than a decade before our own Good Friday Agreement, but by contrast, progress since then has been rapid and intense.
The Czechs have experienced suffering and therefore deeply sympathize with what is happening in their east today. They were brutalized by the Nazi occupiers in World War II – with Reinhard Heydrich ruling from the same castle where the leaders met yesterday, until he was murdered on a Prague street by brave partisans.
And they defied Soviet domination for decades, symbolized by the young student Jan Palach, who set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square in exchange to prove that Czech nationality had not expired.
Similarly, the 1916 Proclamation says like-minded nation-states are welding together in the face of asymmetric state terrorism that threatens fuel lines and internet cables for all.
Whether the European Political Community will prove to be a short-lived project tailored to today’s shielding needs, or evolve into a new stage for the free peoples of the continent remains to be seen.
But the sight of so many heavyweights working alongside the little fry – the smallest minnow being Liechtenstein – brings a real feel to the much-touted ‘European family’. And even the recalcitrant Switzerland was able to join the common cause.
This time it’s Ireland, which took 17 years to join the club formed by the Treaties of Rome. It could yet prove to be a smart move and a historic beginning.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/new-united-front-of-44-nations-brings-together-the-heavy-hitters-and-the-small-fry-of-europe-42046920.html The new united front from 44 nations brings together the heavyweights and the small ones of Europe