Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The US-EU Summit: Merry Freaking Christmas

If the media lead-up is any indication, next week's EU-US summit in Lisbon should prove as much a non-event as people are expecting -- and those are the ones actually aware of it. 

Scheduled to begin this Friday, November 19th, The Great America blog from the French newspaper La Libération reports a sadly appropriate "Christmas tree" analogy for all the issues EU leaders want to air to a listening Barack Obama.

"The Europeans have so much they want to discuss with the United States that the agenda proposals of EU-US summits sometimes make you think of a Christmas tree," stated Pierre Vimont, currently the French ambassador to Washington. 

Part of the unlikely success of the summit owes to its planning. Scheduled over the 19th and 20th, the summit will happen concurrently with a NATO summit. Yet the Europeans may get squeezed out on time to discuss purely political issues. The NATO portion will last a day and a half, with the entire EU summit apparently able, according to US planners, to be polished off in the remaining half-day. Or less, as the actual dialogue part of the meeting is set for a single 90-minute session.

Obama's experience with Europe hardly lends itself to genuine taking of interest. He is perhaps the least Eurocentric president in American history, instead reaching out to China and the Arab world in his first diplomatic dealings. A diplomat cited in the Great America post describes the EU-US summit in Prague from April 2009, in which starry-eyed politicians caught up in Obamamania volleyed repetitive and exhausting commentary at the new President. Afterwards the word back in Washington was that Obama felt "drawn and quartered" in the Prague session. Little wonder, then, that he hurried through the subsequent gathering in Washington in November 2009, and skipped altogether the Madrid summit in May of the next year.

Starting next month Vimont will assume the position of secretary-general for the EU's European External Action Service (EEAS). His status as an éminence grise in one of the EU's leader countries and his deep experience in transatlantic affairs is meant to lend gravitas to the fledgling EU diplomatic arm, but his own words betray scattered confidence that the EEAS can launch smoothly in December. (See more of what I've written on the EEAS at The Hill's CongressBlog, or at EurAmerican here and a comprehensive version of the Hill article here.)

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