Obama's EU-US Summit snub will hurt EU's bid to be taken more seriously - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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Obama's EU-US Summit snub will hurt EU's bid to be taken more seriously

Wednesday, 3 February 2010
It was exactly the kind of signal that the EU did not want - Barack Obama, the President of the United States and so one of the most powerful people on the planet, is to break with tradition and not attend a joint EU-US summit scheduled for Madrid in May – a decision that European officials only found out about through press reports.

Barack Obama, José Luis Zapatero and Herman van RompuyThis unprecedented action can no doubt be viewed as a snub to the EU and comes as a huge blow to the Union that now wants to be taken more seriously in the global arena now that the Lisbon Treaty has been fully ratified and has entered into force. Indeed, El Pais, the main paper in Spain announced as it's headline 'Obama vuelve la espalda a Europa' (Obama Turns His Back on Europe)...

But the hurt the snub caused is still no less painful after the announcement by the State department spokesman Philip J. Crowley, who on Tuesday told press in Washington that the treaty has made it unclear who the US leader should meet and when.

"Up until recently, they [summits] would occur on six-month intervals, as I recall, with one meeting in Europe and one meeting here. And that was part of – the foundation of that was the rotating presidency within the EU. Now you have a new structure regarding not only the rotating EU presidency, you've got an EU Council president, you've got a European Commission president," he said.

Remember that when the Lisbon Treaty came into force on 1 December, it created the posts of a new EU Council president and EU foreign relations chief in order to give the union a stronger voice abroad. But in addition, it kept the institution of the six-month rotating EU presidency, with the member state holding the chairmanship to do the bulk of behind-the-scenes policy work in Brussels.

El Pais' headline 'Obama vuelve la espalda a Europa' (Photo: Screengrab)This role is currently being fulfilled by Spain, who have expressed great disappointment at Mr Obama's decision. The Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Zapatero, was even described as being both angry and embarrassed when he heard the news.

Suggestions have been made that the US-EU summit might have to be downgraded, or even cancelled, on the grounds that 'if there is no Obama, there is no summit!'

The US president normally attends the annual summit, held in alternate years in Europe or the US. However, there is a feeling in the Obama administration that a lot of summits are light on substance. Obama was reported to be "fairly unimpressed" with the last EU-US summit in Prague last year.

The White House have since tried to make amends by leaving open the possibility of a visit to Europe later this year. A spokesman told the media that "we are still working through the president's travel schedule … and will make announcements on trips and summits when those are set."

But the real problem lies in the organisation of the summits and just who will chair them. Technically it should now be Herman van Rompuy, the newly chosen President of the European Council, but the Spanish PM Mr Zapatero is reluctant to relinquish this responsibility now that it is his country in charge of the rotating presidency.

The Summit - originally advertised on the Spanish Presidency's website for the May 25th but now removed - was to take place in Madrid upon Mr Zapatero's insistance instead of the EU headquarters in Brussels.

If it was scheduled to take place in Brussels, perhaps Mr Obama would still remain on the list of attendees, since he could have combined it with a visit to NATO's headquarters down the road...

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