LORNE COOK, KAREL JANICEK and SYLVIE CORBET

PRAGUE (AP) — Leaders of 44 European countries stretching from Iceland to Turkey met Thursday in what many called a united stance against Russia’s war on Ukraine, as an energy crisis and conflict-fueled high inflation are wreaking havoc on their economies.

The inaugural summit of the European Political Community involves the 27 member countries of the European Union, aspiring partners in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, as well as neighbors such as Britain – the only country to have left the EU. EU – and Turkey.

Russia is the only uninvited major European power, along with its neighbor and war supporter, Belarus.

“What you will see here is that Europe stands together against the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir told reporters at Prague Castle in the Czech Republic, where the rally was taking place.

His Belgian counterpart, Alexander De Croo, said “if you just look at the attendance here, you see the importance. The whole European continent is here, except for two countries: Belarus and Russia. So that shows how isolated these two countries are.”

Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said the fallout from Russia’s war on Ukraine was something they all had in common.

“It affects us all safety-wise, and it affects us all through our savings, through rising energy costs. So the only way to deal with that is to work together, not just l European Union. All European countries must work together,” he said.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal was in Prague for the meeting, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the leaders via video link.

“There are no representatives of Russia with us here – a state that seems to belong geographically to Europe, but from the point of view of its values ​​and behavior is the most anti-European state in the world “, said Zelenskyy.

“We are now in a strong position to order all possible European powers to end the war and secure long-term peace,” he said. “For Ukraine, for Europe, for the world.”

The forum is the brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron and is supported by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. They say it should aim to boost security and prosperity across the continent.

Critics say the new forum is an attempt to hold back EU enlargement. Others fear it will become a discussion store, meeting perhaps once or twice a year but devoid of any real influence or content.

Europe’s main human rights watchdog – the Council of Europe – seemed puzzled by the gathering. Spokesman Daniel Holtgen tweeted that the “European Political Community” “yet to be defined”.

“In the field of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, such a pan-European community already exists: it is the Council of Europe”, he declared.

Macron called the rally an “important moment”. The aim, he said, is to forge a common strategy to deal with the challenges facing Europe. “Until now it didn’t really exist and could lead to divisions.”

Scholz called the new forum a “great innovation” because leaders can talk about common concerns “without the daily agenda or the need to reach agreements.” This would help improve ties with EU neighbours, “many of whom wish to become members”.

He said the new European grouping was not intended to create “a new institution with an administration, a bureaucracy”, but rather a place where heads of state and government met regularly.

Thursday’s summit began with an opening ceremony and was followed by a series of meetings allowing leaders to discuss the main challenges facing Europe: security, energy, climate, dire economic situation and migration.

No EU funding or program is proposed and no formal statement will be issued after the summit. Proof of its success will likely be if a second meeting actually takes place.

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Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.