UK prime minister Liz Truss has left open the door to joining a new European grouping proposed by France’s president Emmanuel Macron, intended to bolster regional co-operation in the face of Russian aggression.
Truss discussed the group, tentatively called the European Political Community, with Macron in New York on Tuesday and has asked for more details on its agenda and how it would work.
The EU plans to invite Truss to a summit in Prague on October 6, which would bring together EU members and neighbouring countries including the UK, Ukraine, Moldova and Balkan states.
If Truss agreed to participate in the initiative, it would help repair some of the strained relations between Britain and the EU and Paris in particular since Brexit.
Although Truss is sceptical about the proposed grouping, she told the UN General Assembly on Wednesday that democracies must co-operate to counter the threat posed by autocracies.
“The prime minister wants to see more details before giving her view,” Truss’s spokesperson said of the proposed EPC, while not ruling out the possibility that she could attend the Prague summit.
Truss argues that other groups including Nato, the G7 and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe already play important roles in the region.
Truss wants to know more about the agenda of any new European group since she thinks it should be narrowly focused on key issues, rather than talking about designing new structures.
In particular, people close to Truss’s thinking say she believes there is scope for more European co-operation in areas such as tackling energy security and migration.
Macron proposed the new forum in May, saying it should be open to countries adhering to the EU’s core values and permitting co-operation in areas such as security, energy and infrastructure.
It is intended to be a vehicle for deepening relations between the bloc and its neighbours, among them aspiring EU member states such as Ukraine and Moldova, which may face decades of waiting before they join the union.
Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform think-tank, said French officials had told him that UK-France relations were very poor but that British participation in the Prague summit would change things.
“Macron thinks this is really important for discussing strategic issues and he wants the British to take part,” said Grant. “The French say that the Brits can help to shape how the EPC emerges.”
The idea of the EPC is also viewed in London as a sign of the EU looking at ways to re-engage with Britain after Brexit, although relations remain bedevilled by the row over Northern Ireland trading arrangements.
In the address to the assembly, Truss urged democracies to work together to take on Russia and China because “we cannot simply assume there will be a democratic future”.
Truss paid tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth, calling her “the rock on which modern Britain was built”, and said “our constitutional monarchy, underpinned by a democratic society, has delivered stability and progress.”
She added: “There is a real struggle going on between different forms of society — between democracies and autocracies. Unless democratic societies deliver on the economy and security our citizens expect, we will fall behind.
“This must be a new era in which we commit to ourselves, our citizens, and this institution that we will do whatever it takes — whatever it takes to deliver for our people and defend our values.”