20th Oct 2016

US has no closer partner than Europe, says Obama

  • Barack Obama said the summit was not very exciting (Photo: Valentina Pop)

EU leaders meeting US President Barack Obama on Saturday chose not to discuss any contentious matters in an exercise meant to show how well the transatlantic relationship works, after Mr Obama had snubbed them earlier this year.

"This summit was not as exciting as other summits, because we basically agree on everything," Mr Obama told reporters on Saturday night, after a two-day marathon session of meetings at the Nato summit in Lisbon, ending with a two-hour session with EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.

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"Nevertheless," Mr Obama argued, "I value these meetings" because the US "has no closer partner than Europe."

The reassurances about the importance of EU-US relation come after Mr Obama earlier this year rejected an invitation to Madrid by the then Spanish EU presidency, with White House officials citing the need for the Europeans to make up their minds who represents the EU.

Spanish premier Jose Rodriguez Zapatero had seized the opportunity of a "transitional" period as the new EU rulebook just came into force, to try and organise the EU-US summit himself instead of Mr Van Rompuy.

"Today marked our first summit under EU's new Lisbon Treaty and it was wonderful to meet Cathy Ashton, who is doing an outstanding work," Mr Obama said in Lisbon.

As for the concrete outcome of the meeting, which Mr Barroso described as "intimate, friendly and focussed", the three politicians could point to little other than a "working group" on cybersecurity which will report back to leaders in a year's time and to step up the activity of the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) looking at regulatory regimes and business-friendly climate on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr Obama also stressed the need for EU's police training mission to Afghanistan to step up its act, after Nato leaders and partners had just decided to begin the security hand-over to Afghan troops in 2014.

Mr Van Rompuy, for his part, said that a "speedy compromise" on an overarching EU-US data protection agreement may facilitate the conclusion of other data transfer deals - for instance on passenger name records (PNR).

This was the only midly contentious matter taken up from a wishlist adopted by the European Parliament in the run-up to the EU-US summit. More controversial matters requested by MEPs were not brought up, including the call for an independent inquiry into Iraqi torture condoned by US and British troops, after the publication of secret war logs by Wikileaks.

The US leader took no questions from the press after his five-minute remarks and headed directly to the airport, in his armoured Cadillac.

The ambassadors of the EU to Washington, Joao Vale de Almeida and William Kennard, US' envoy to Brussels later on jointly briefed the press and answered questions "on behalf" of their leaders.

Asked why the EU leaders chose to remain silent on the more contentious matters with the US, Mr de Almeida argued that "when you have a summit with best friends, the level of disputes is low."

There may be "differences", such as on data privacy, but "no big problems" as there are in US' relations with other countries, the former chief of staff of Mr Barroso said.

Mr Kennard said that "because the relationship is healthy and working, we can focus on challenges outside the EU or the US, such as Iran and the Middle East."

On the working group on cybersecurity, the US envoy said that "it is building on a lot of work going on already" and that unlike the efforts in Nato to counter cyber attacks on military networks, this will focus on the "commercial side" and potential threats to the regular consumer.

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