28th Oct 2016

Obama to skip EU-US summit in Madrid

  • Barack Obama will travel less this year, as he is focusing on the economic recovery. (Photo: The White House)

US President Barack Obama is likely to skip this year's EU-US summit to be held by the Spanish presidency in Madrid, as he is focusing more on the domestic agenda, according to press reports.

The White House has decided that Mr Obama will not attend the summit with the European Union in May, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed US officials.

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Last year, Mr Obama went to Europe six times, as he set about establishing relations with world leaders. Now that those relationships are in place, "so the demands are somewhat different," a senior administration official told the US paper.

Among the visits was also an informal EU-US summit in Prague, hosted by the then Czech EU presidency. The regular bilateral summit with European officials took place on 3 November last year. Mr Obama devoted three hours to the meeting itself and sent vice-president Joe Biden to have lunch with the EU officials.

Mr Obama "had never committed to, nor planned for" an EU summit this spring. "So we have not changed plans," the source told Wall Street Journal.

A meeting with European leaders is however planned for later this fall, during the Nato summit in Lisbon. Mr Obama may also travel to Europe to sign a nuclear disarmament treaty if an agreement is reached with Russia.

A spokeswoman for the US mission to the EU could neither confirm or deny the information.

US-EU summits have been held once or twice a year since 1991, with the venue usually alternating between the continents. This year, after the EU's new legal framework came into force, there was some added confusion over who would have the competence to host it and in which location – Brussels or Madrid, which currently holds the rotating presidency.

Another US official told the Wall Street Journal that this confusion has increased US hesitance to commit to the meeting.

"We don't even know if they're going to have one [a summit]," said the official. "We've told them: 'Figure it out and let us know.' "

On the European side, reactions to the possible no-show by Mr Obama have been hesitant.

"The EU-US summit is scheduled to take place in May in Madrid, as was foreseen and we are still preparing it," Cristina Gallach, the Spanish EU presidency's spokeswoman told this website.

As to the possibility that Mr Obama may not attend the event, she said: "The final agendas of high level people are usually disclosed at the last minute."

Ms Gallach confirmed that Mr Zapatero will see Mr Obama this week however. The Spanish leader is due to travel to Washington this week and participate in the national prayer breakfast on 4 February, a yearly event with over 3,000 guests from 120 countries where the US president is the keynote speaker. Spanish press has previously speculated that Mr Zapatero may use the occasion to make the case for the US president attending the Madrid summit.

Despite reassuring gestures mainly coming from US vice-president Joe Biden and secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the Obama administration has been focusing less on Europe than its leaders expected.

In his first State of the Union speech last week, Mr Obama made only one reference to Europe, when speaking about the stimulus package, as one of its projects focuses on high-speed railways. "There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products," Mr Obama said.

In a speech held in Paris last Friday, Ms Clinton however rejected the idea that "the Obama administration is so focused on foreign policy challenges elsewhere in the world that Europe has receded in our list of priorities."

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