At Mimi Castle, a winery located southeast of the Moldovan capital Chisinau, an eagerly anticipated event is taking place on Thursday. This gathering involves 47 heads of state and government, signifying a significant day for Moldova, which is recognized as the second poorest country in Europe and one of the latest recipients of EU candidate status. As the second summit of the European Political Community (EPC) since its establishment last year, this occasion presents a considerable logistical test for the small nation nestled between Romania and Ukraine.
All the political problems that leaders have been wrestling with since 2022 converge in Moldova, whose government is worried 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 with Ukraine — one day.
These are the exact 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 deems 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.”
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama warned that the EPC could not become another waiting room for EU candidates 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, Chancellor Scholz said that he wanted to speed up the EU accession process but that for this to be possible 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 decades-old 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 North Kosovo. Meanwhile, Britain, the only former EU member, is still trying to find its post-Brexit footing.
The few hours that leaders have at at Mimi Castle will not 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?
“I think that is the million-dollar question,” says Amanda Paul, senior policy analyst at the Brussels-based think tank European Policy Center. “If you ask the countries participating, they are still scratching their heads.”
She said that 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, such as “an objective or clear roadmap 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.”
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 Britain 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.