The leadership of 44 countries are gathering in Prague on Thursday for a summit aimed to forge broader European co-operation on the response to Ukraine and the energy crisis.
Britain’s Liz Truss is in attendance along with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in meetings that have been carefully choreographed to smooth over the continent’s fault lines.
The result of an idea first put forward by French president Emmanuel Macron, the European Political Community aims “to bring leaders together on an equal footing and to foster political dialogue and co-operation on issues of common interest,” European Council president Charles Michel wrote in an invitation letter ahead of the summit.
Diplomats hope the format will allow European Union countries to foster greater co-ordination on broad geopolitical issues with countries that are former members, those who hope to become members, and countries that have no wish to join — while avoiding getting mired in fraught discussions about those countries’ relationships with the EU.
The leaders are to hold round-table discussions on the issues of peace and security, energy, climate, and the economic situation, amid a darkening outlook that has heightened fears that a recession may grip the continent.
Leaders will then hold bilateral meetings — with Britain’s embattled prime minister Liz Truss set to enjoy a break from a difficult start to her term to speak to leaders about the need for a unified response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and speak one-on-one to European leaders including Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Czech host Prime Minister Petr Fiala.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy will also address the conference by video call, as Kyiv’s forces consolidate gains against Russia in a counter-offensive in the east of the country that has pushed back Moscow’s forces from territory it seized earlier this year.
Focus may fall on attendees such as Serbia, which has declined to impose sanctions on Russia following its invasion, while Turkey has come under pressure from the EU and United States to prevent its economy serving as a workaround to their restrictive measures.
Ukraine is expected to push the EU to follow through on pledges of financial support to keep its state running, and to call for European countries to step up the supply of military hardware to help Kyiv forces maintain their advance.
“Regrettably the Kremlin has taken irresponsible escalatory steps: it was organised a national mobilisation campaign, sham coercive ‘referenda’ and the illegal annexation of Ukraine’s territories, and it pursues its threatening rhetoric,” Michel wrote ahead of the summit.
“Our solidarity with Ukraine and its people remains unwavering. We will continue to strengthen our restrictive measures to further increase pressure on Russia to end its war.”
A senior diplomat said ahead of the summit that the European leaders hoped the summit would showcase “what Ukraine really needs” and foster wider regional support.
“We need Ukraine to function, the state needs to function so they can defend themselves — money, weapons, everything to do with defence,” the diplomat said.
On Friday, the leaders of the 27 EU member states will remain in Prague to for further talks on the union’s support for Ukraine, discussions on options for intervention on the energy markets to force down gas prices, and potential joint financial responses to the potential recession to come.