John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

EU/US Summits

The news, emanating initially through a background briefing of an American newspaper, that the US President will not attend the planned regular EU/US Summit in Spain in May will deeply disappoint many Europeans who believe that a structure should exist for regular top level contact between the European Union and the United States. It may mean that there will be no EU/US Summit at all this year, because a meeting without President Obama is not a Summit.

I believe that a regular system for EU/US Summits is a good thing in itself and a good use of time, especially if there is no big announcement to be made, because the very regularity of the meetings prevents misunderstandings turning into crises. Routine meetings reduce the risk of megaphone diplomacy becoming the norm, because participants know they have other ways to get their point across.

That thinking was shared by all US Administrations since 1991, when the system of regular Summits was agreed between the EU and the US. These Summits were not initiated as some sort of favour to Europeans, but because it is the European Union, not the 27 member states, that has primary responsibility for a wide range of economic , environmental and travel related issues which impact directly on the constituents of every American President. European countries are the biggest external investors in the United States. American policymakers have been happy to see the European Union take in new member states, and may even want to influence that process in the future.

I attended EU/US Summits under Presidents Clinton and Bush. Both Presidents evidently saw them as a more time efficient way of pursuing US interests with 27 countries at a single meeting rather than at 27 separate meetings.

President Obama’s spokespeople say he has visited Europe a lot, and has a busy domestic agenda. All participants in all Summits have busy domestic agendas. All previous US Presidents had busy agendas too. President Obama has indeed visited European countries, including during his election campaign, but that is not a replacement for meetings with the European Union.

Of course, the European Union needs to examine its own contribution.

To be heard in the United States, the EU needs to present a united front. It needs to have something meaningful and strong to say. It must be prepared to be critical, if necessary. That requires prior work at home among the EU members, to establish a common position on the message the EU wants to convey to the United States. The 27 EU members need to put Europe’s general interest first, and avoid competing with one another to develop special relationships with the US at the expense of other EU members.

Europeans cannot complain that the United States does not take the EU seriously enough, if they do not make a sufficiently serious effort themselves to develop common EU policies that are so strong and effective that no sensible US President could afford to pass up an opportunity to influence them.

What is be done now? The newly chosen President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy may be able to put things right. Even if the 2010 meeting does not take place take place in Europe this year as is due under the long established rotation, it is even more important that the regular rhythm of EU/US Summits is maintained. So perhaps exceptionally, President Van Rompuy and the European leaders could offer to come to the United States this year at a time that fits everyone’s busy agenda.

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    I agree

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