Thursday

22nd Oct 2020

US mini-summit seen as fresh snub in Brussels

The US decision not to invite any EU officials to a top-level security event in Prague is being seen as a fresh put-down by some in Brussels.

US leader Barack Obama will in the Czech capital on Thursday (8 April) sign a nuclear arms reduction treaty with his Russian counterpart before hosting a dinner with 11 heads of state and government from selected European countries.

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  • President Obama arriving for an EU summit in Prague in 2009 (Photo: aic.cz)

The guest list includes Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic itself, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. But no EU personalities, such as the bloc's new foreign relations chief, Catherine Ashton, or its new president, Herman Van Rompuy, were asked to come.

The White House says the dinner is designed for Mr Obama to understand the "unique perspective" of former Communist and Soviet countries on security issues in Europe.

It comes amid concerns in eastern EU capitals that the US is prioritising relations with Moscow while pulling back from plans to build new military bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.

It also comes after Mr Obama cancelled an US-EU summit due to take place in Madrid in May. US and EU officials later suggested that future summits should be held only "when we both feel the need for one," rather than on a regular basis.

The developments embarrassed the Spanish EU presidency and have prompted questions of whether Washington continues to see the EU as an important player on the world stage.

The European Commission brushed off the significance of the Prague dinner in an official statement on Thursday.

"There are regular contacts between the US and member states and we don't have to intervene in all of them and to be invited to all of these meetings, so it's certainly not negative information for us," a commission spokesman said.

Asked by EUobserver if the Prague event risks being seen as another snub to the EU, a US diplomat said: "Both the president and the secretary of state have spoken of the great importance the EU holds for the US. We're not trying to distract or subtract from one relationship by also having another."

But the positive interpretation of events is not shared by everybody in the EU capital.

"At a time when the European Union is struggling to shape its foreign policy structures to have more influence on a global level this meeting represents a 'lose-lose' situation for both the EU member states attending the dinner summit and the European Union," the leader of the Liberal group in the EU parliament and former Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, said.

"This dinner points yet again to the fact that the European Union needs to make a common foreign policy a reality so that President Obama knows whom to call or who to invite for dinner."

A prominent EU diplomat told this website: "He didn't go to Madrid. Now we get this format in Prague. You could certainly ask some questions [about Mr Obama's ongoing commitment to the EU]."

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