PRAGUE — Winking a smile, giving a thumbs-up, Emmanuel Macron once again appears at the center of Europe — literally.
The photo of more than 40 European leaders surrounding the French president on Thursday ensured a symbolic image of continental unity in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, making the inaugural summit of the European Political Community a first success for Macron, who launched the idea a few months ago. from.
“It’s a great day for you,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala told Macron as he welcomed him for the meeting at Prague Castle in the Czech Republic.
The forum aimed at boosting security and prosperity across the continent brought together current EU members, potential partners in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, as well as Britain and Turkey. Russia was the only uninvited major European power, along with its neighbor and war supporter, Belarus.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who delivered a speech via video conference, said: “We have received not only another format of cooperation in Europe, but an extremely powerful opportunity to restore peace in Europe.
Other leaders thanked Macron for his initiative, despite initial concerns from some that it could slow the expansion of the European Union.
At a press conference, Macron said the meeting sent a “powerful” message. “As a continent, we are trying to solve the problems,” he said.
The next meeting will take place in Moldova in the spring.
In Prague, Macron continued his diplomatic activism. This went from improving complex Franco-British relations to trying to ease some regional tensions.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss, who had recently expressed her desire to “re-engage” with France following post-Brexit tensions, called Macron “a friend”.
“What we’re talking about is how the UK and France can work more closely together,” she said.
Alongside the President of the European Council Charles Michel, Macron was able to gather around the table the leaders of historical enemies Turkey and Armenia as well as Azerbaijan. Last month, Armenia and Azerbaijan brokered a ceasefire to end a flare-up in fighting that has killed 155 soldiers on both sides.
Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also met successively with the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia. The EU has overseen years of unsuccessful talks to normalize relations between the two countries, saying it is one of the key prerequisites for their eventual membership of the 27-nation bloc. Serbia refused to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.
First elected in 2017, Macron has always advocated an ambitious pro-European approach and has always sought to play a key role in global diplomacy. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine only strengthened his views.
In April, Macron was re-elected to a second term, beating far-right nationalist rival Marine Le Pen in the second round.
This has cemented his position as a senior player in Europe, as the other heavyweight, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, is still relatively new to the role after taking over from Angela Merkel last year.
Macron also held the rotating presidency of the European Union during the first half of the year, championing sanctions against Moscow as punishment for its war on Ukraine.
At home, however, he appeared weakened after the June legislative elections saw him lose his majority in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, forcing him into political manoeuvres.
Yet its popularity remained relatively high throughout the summer, thanks in part to a series of national measures aimed at helping the French cope with rising food and energy prices, including a cap gas and electricity prices.
A fervent defender of multilateralism, Macron will soon have other opportunities to assert his views on the international scene.
He is due to travel to Egypt next month for the upcoming United Nations climate change summit and the Group of 20 leading rich and developing countries summit in Bali, Indonesia.
He will then travel to Washington in early December for the first state visit of President Joe Biden’s term, a sign that relations between Paris and Washington have come full circle. The relationship fell apart last year after the United States announced a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia. The US move undermined a deal that had been struck for France to sell diesel-powered submarines to Australia.
The Biden administration has since praised Macron for being one of the most vocal Western allies in condemning Russia’s attack on Ukraine.