The next British Prime Minister will be invited in a few weeks to join a pan-European community championed by France as a way to bind countries more closely within the EU, The National has been said.
The eagerness to include the UK, despite British reservations and only two years after cutting ties with the EU, risks putting Britain’s next leader on a collision course with Paris and Brussels once they take their duties next month.
Liz Truss, the favorite to win the Conservative leadership race, has made clear her lack of enthusiasm for the so-called European Political Community, a new forum for dialogue being pursued by French President Emmanuel Macron.
His rival Rishi Sunak, an early Brexit supporter, has vowed to further ease regulatory ties with the EU if he succeeds Boris Johnson as prime minister on September 3.
Nonetheless, EU officials have not given up on persuading Britain to attend an inaugural meeting of the looser Political Community, scheduled for Prague in early October.
The summit will “certainly have a broader reach beyond EU member states”, said Lenka Do, a Czech government diplomat, who holds the EU’s rotating presidency for six months.
“The UK is one of the EU’s closest friends and partners and, as Czechia, we count on its participation.”
Details of the political community – dubbed ‘EU lite’ – are still being debated by diplomats, but Brussels expects it to involve regular meetings between the group’s presidents and prime ministers.
Mr Macron proposed the idea in May as a way to bring countries in the EU’s waiting room, such as Ukraine, into the European fold even if they do not yet meet the strict criteria for become a full member of the bloc.
This came as the war in Ukraine focused on accelerating the accession process of countries such as Moldova, Georgia, North Macedonia and Albania, fearing that the long wait would make them drift into the Russian camp.
An EU official said the club could include ‘all European countries with which we have close relations’, and Mr Macron said Britain was invited, despite its often rocky relationship with the EU since she voted for Brexit.
He pitched the idea in person to Mr Johnson on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Germany, where the pair sought to bury the hatchet after years of Anglo-French tension over Brexit, migration and defense .
But his claim to have piqued Mr Johnson’s interest was quickly downplayed by the UK side. Ms Truss, the Foreign Secretary, said Britain saw the G7 and NATO as its key alliances and had not joined Mr Macron’s wider community.
She told a parliamentary committee in June that Britain already had “abundant and positive relationship” with its European partners, in particular thanks to the deep bilateral ties it has enjoyed since leaving the EU.
Mr Sunak, who highlighted his pro-Brexit credentials during his leadership bid, vowed to tear up existing EU regulations and reprimand Mr Macron for human trafficking in the Channel.
The Sunak campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Community Policy.
Mr Macron’s proposal is being taken up by the Czech presidency, which took over from France at the helm of the EU last month, and by the president of the European Council, Charles Michel.
Czech officials are considering holding a Political Community summit as the 27 EU members are already in Prague Castle for a meeting in October.
Some of the prospective members besides Britain reacted cautiously to the idea, saying it should not be used as a cover to throw their full EU membership into the long grass.
“We reject any attempt to find an alternative that no one needs, or to find something else for Ukraine. We have to be like you,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told members of the European Council in May.
Recognizing these concerns, EU leaders agreed at their last summit in June that any new community “will not replace existing EU policies and instruments, including enlargement”.
Even so, membership of such a group would be hard to accept for some ‘eurosceptic’ MPs in Britain after their long battle to leave the EU.
A common complaint from Brexiteers was that the UK had signed on to a looser trading bloc in the 1970s and watched it morph over the decades into something resembling a European government they no longer supported.
The opposition Labor Party is reluctant to reignite the bitter Brexit wars, and Mr Macron’s idea has attracted only modest interest on the left.
Enthusiast Roger Liddle, special adviser to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, said it was an opportunity for the UK to work with Europe without having to join the EU and would involve “no loss of sovereignty” on the part of Great Britain.
Although Mr Macron’s suggestion gained momentum in the context of the war in Ukraine, he was not the first to float such an idea.
Former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta spoke in 2015 of a “two-speed Europe” with an inner and outer circle, and even Mr Johnson made typically catchy references to re-establishing a “Mare Nostrum”, a sphere of Roman influence in ancient times.
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Updated: August 15, 2022, 11:42 a.m.