Obama in Brussels this WEEK
By Honor Mahony
EU capital Brussels will be pulling out all the diplomatic stops this week as it plays host to US President Barack Obama.
The President will attend the EU-US summit in Brussels on Wednesday (26 March) in what will be his first visit to the EU capital since he took office in 2009.
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The trip will be an opportunity to smooth over the cracks that appeared in bilateral ties after revelations about the extent of US intelligence snooping on EU citizens and some of their leaders.
The meeting is set to include discussions on a bilateral free-trade deal. Talks on the agreement started last year and both sides have been touting its potential benefits. However, there are many sticking points including EU worries that its environmental and safety standards risk being eroded. And law-makers on both sides of the Atlantic could strike down the end result.
Meanwhile Obama’s EU trip comes amid the continued tense political stand-off with Russia, which recently annexed Crimea following an independence referendum deemed illegal by the EU. The US, followed by the EU, imposed sanctions on key Russian figures.
Obama will arrive in Brussels on Tuesday evening.
Before attending the summit on Wednesday, he will visit the American cemetry commemorating the First World War in Waregem, north west Belgium. De Standaard newspaper reports that 20 platoons, each with 40 police, will be deployed during the president's visit.
Prior to Brussels, Obama will be in The Hague for the Nuclear Security Summit which will also be attended by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and German leader Angela Merkel.
Xi will also have a state visit in France from Tuesday to Friday. He will travel from there on to Berlin which in the past has proved to be a strong trade ally. Last year Chancellor Merkel backed Beijing’s position in a bilateral trade dispute with the EU over solar panel imports.
On Tuesday, the European Commission is set to unveil new legislation on organic farming. A recent commission report on the issue noted that between 2000 and 2011 the organic area in EU member states has more than doubled to over 9.5 million hectares of agricultural land.
The same report noted that the current rules on what makes a product organic need to be clarified for non-food products, such as cometics. It also noted that the organic sector suffers from the same "intensification" problems as the non-organic sector, such as when it comes to overcrowded conditions for poultry.
The European Parliament has a quiet week with the main event being a debriefing of what happened at the EU summit by EU council president Herman Van Rompuy on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there will be several external trips by groups of MEPs including to Washington, Poland and Qatar.