It is a colorful political group. With Democrats alongside autocrats and neighboring countries who have been at war with each other for decades – even with two countries that went to war with each other just last month. There are countries that are eager to join the European Union and countries that certainly do not want to join but maintain close relations with Brussels. And that one country, which left the EU and has since maintained a fractious relationship with Brussels, has also been invited. No fewer than 44 countries will take part in the ‘establishment meeting’ of the European Political Community this Thursday in Prague, a new consultation of all European countries – except Russia. The meeting itself should act as a signal to Moscow that all of Europe supports Ukraine. President Zelensky will participate by video, the Ukrainian Prime Minister will attend in person. The European Union will ask non-EU countries to copy Brussels sanctions against Russia if they are not already doing so, a senior EU diplomat said. In the setting of Prague Castle, government leaders will undoubtedly underline that this is a historic meeting: the whole of Europe comes together at a time when a war is raging on the continent. No EU vehicle Apart from the gravitas, it is still a rather vague plan that must be provided with content in the working way. In any case, the idea, coined by French President Emmanuel Macron, seems to fill a need. All countries have accepted the EU’s invitation. The EU, which already supplies more than half of the EPG members with 27 countries, sees itself mainly as the organizer of the first meeting, but not as the ‘owner’ of the project. Only one EU leader will speak during the opening session, in addition to the leaders of Norway, Albania, the United Kingdom and Ukraine. For now, it’s easier to say what the EPG isn’t than what it can become That is intentional: EU diplomats constantly emphasize that the EPG is not an EU vehicle and any formulation or use that smacks of European institutions is carefully avoided. Partly not to scare off the British and Swiss, but also to prevent countries aspiring to EU membership from false expectations. For now, it’s easier to say what the EPG isn’t than what it can become. It is not an alternative to EU membership, EU leaders wrote last summer, nor is it a vehicle for expanding the EU. Besides all the organizations that already exist in Europe – OSCE, OECD, Council of Europe – it is the only place where European government leaders can meet. And, from the EU’s point of view, it’s a way of structurally speaking to key neighbors – something that has been neglected in the pandemic. Annoyance Without a clearly defined goal (“We are now going to imitate the United Nations,” an EU diplomat snorted last week), the EPG seems, according to some, to become a bit of a thousand-things cloth for the problems of the European Union. The one with the countries in the Western Balkans, for example, where there is growing annoyance about the long accession procedure. Those with recent candidates Ukraine and Moldova, who live under direct or indirect threat of war. The one with the United Kingdom, which has charted a downright hostile course. And the problems with Turkey, which is embroiled in open conflict with two EU Member States. Apart from Ukraine, the agenda includes a number of roundtable discussions on peace and security and climate and energy. There is a lot of room for small talk and, as with any founding meeting, practical matters need to be arranged. The intention is that from now on government leaders will meet twice a year in different locations. Critics fear the new body will become a thousand-things cloth for the EU’s problems In any case, the initiative has already led to a joint opinion piece by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Prime Minister Mark Rutte, a duo that has had a rather turbulent relationship in recent years with some verbal slips on both sides. The two applaud the project as a “workspace where we can meet and do business, whether you are a member of the EU or not”. Both have an interest in emphasizing that the EPG is something different than an EU-plus – Rutte to avoid the impression that the EU is expanding through the back door, Rama not to lose sight of the path to actual membership . seating arrangement In any case, there are Christmas dinners where less awkward situations have to be feared than on this European Family Day. For example, two countries (Azerbaijan and Armenia) fired on each other last month. A country that does not recognize the existence of the other country (Serbia over Kosovo) and that does not support European sanctions against Russia. There is a country that is benefiting greatly from the energy crisis in the rest of Europe (Norway), a country that is increasingly struggling with the EU over economic relations (Switzerland) and a country that recently threatened an EU Member State with war (Turkey towards Greece). Try to make a table arrangement for that. Also read: Ukraine gains sight of EU, but it could take years, decades How successful the new consultative body is will only become clear in the near future, when it becomes apparent how much European leaders want to keep making room for it in their agenda. A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 6, 2022