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23rd Mar 2019

EU-US summits to take place 'only when necessary'

  • Barack Obama (l) met EU leaders in Prague last year (Photo: eu2009.cz)

EU-US summits will no longer be organised automatically every year, but only when there are particular issues to be decided, foreign policy officials from Washington and Brussels said Friday (26 March).

"The EU is our equal partner and we have an ongoing working relationship. I simply reject the idea that we need summits to get things done, as it may be the case with other countries," Anne-Marie Slaughter, policy director within the US state department said during the Brussels Forum, a transatlantic conference organised by the German Marshall Fund, an American think-tank.

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Ms Slaughter said she was baffled to read the news about the attempts earlier this year to "put something on the agenda" of a planned EU-US summit in Madrid, which was cancelled after US President Barack Obama declined to participate. She stressed that the ties with Europe were so strong that the EU should not have to feel the need to "attract" the US to come to its events.

Initially scheduled to take place in May, the EU-US summit was widely seen as little more than a photo-opportunity between Spanish Prime Minister Jose Rodriguez Zapatero and Mr Obama, as there was nothing of substance on the agenda.

Speaking at the same event, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that while summits were important to "strengthen relations" that needed it or to decide particular matters, they will now no longer take place automatically.

"We will have a summit when we both feel the need for one. Meanwhile, the relationship goes on," Ms Ashton said.

US-EU summits have been held once or twice a year since 1991, with the venue usually alternating between the continents. The most recent meeting took place in Washington on 3 November last year, with Mr Obama devoting three hours to the meeting itself and sending vice-president Joe Biden to have lunch with EU officials.

In an interview with the EUobserver earlier this month, US ambassador to the EU William E. Kennard suggested that the meeting was a diplomatic nicety rather than a venue for pressing decisions.

"All of our political leaders have incredible demands on their time, we have to be careful in deploying their time to make sure there are defined outcomes," he said.

When declining the invitation, the US also pointed to the EU's new legal framework – the Lisbon Treaty – and the fact that it no longer should be the rotating presidency, currently held by Spain, chairing these events.

The Madrid summit was seen as a concession to the Spanish government, who started preparing this six-month programme long before it was clear that the new treaty was going to come into force. The treaty came into being on 1 December.

A summit with Morocco was meanwhile chaired by the standing president of the EU council, Herman van Rompuy.

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