10th May 2021

Obama kicks off Europe trip with ancestral visit to Ireland

  • In anticipation of the Obama visit - a house in the Irish village of Moneygall (Photo: EventPhotography)

US president Barack Obama is kicking off a visit to Europe with a brief stopover in Ireland to discover his ancestral roots, a 24-hour visit that has the country - mired in economic problems - buzzing with excitement.

The focus of Obama's attentions, at least for the purposes of tracing his roots, will be the tiny midlands village of Moneygall in Co. Offaly, a place that most people in Ireland would have previously had difficulty in finding on the map. It is from here that Obama's great-great-great grandfather 160 years ago set off to America to make a better life for himself.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The village houses have been spruced up with paint - an inspired marketing move by paint-maker Dulux - the pavements cleaned and flowers arranged.

The president, who will be accompanied by the First Lady Michelle Obama, is expected to have the obligatory pint of Guinness in the village pub which is decked top to bottom with Obama memorabilia, including a bust of the man himself standing on the counter.

For all the local excitement and the presence of the world media to boot, the village excursion is only expected to last about 45 minutes. Obama will then head back to Dublin where he will give a speech in the evening, set to be attended by thousands of people.

The event is being billed as a public celebration, with Irish citizens in recent times having little to be joyful about amid high unemployment and severe cuts to public services as the highly indebted country seeks to get itself out of its banking and economic crisis.

The trip to Ireland will be followed on Tuesday by a visit to Britain where he will meet Prime Minister David Cameron and address both houses of parliament.

Keenly looked for will be any references to Britain's 'special relationship' with the US. London often uses this as a reason for keeping its head turned more towards Washington than towards Brussels. In recent years, however, it has been questionable whether America's relations with the UK do have a special status.

On Thursday, Obama will head to Deauville in France for the G8 summit. There it is likely that leaders discuss who should head up the International Monetary Fund, after Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested on sexual assault charges last week. The EU is strongly pushing to have a European in the post, with the IMF involved in the bailout of several eurozone countries.

The US president will also meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

At the end of the week, he will head to Poland to discuss plans for a US missile defence shield in Europe, which will partly be hosted by the Poles.

Obama's trip to Europe is of huge symbolic importance, with Europeans often fretting that the cool-headed president prefers to focus his attentions on Asia rather than the Old Continent.

Obama's summitteering in Europe became a bone of contention last year after he abruptly cancelled an EU-US summit in May due to lack of substance on the agenda. The move prompted commentators to speculate that EU structures are less important than bilateral diplomacy for the White House.

A US summit with post-Communist EU countries in Prague last April excluding EU leaders was also seen as a snub by some.

In addition, despite the delight with which they welcomed Obama becoming US president in 2009, Europeans were subsequently disappointed that Washington did not move forward in areas such as tackling climate change, an issue close to the EU's heart.

Meanwhile, Washington is often frustrated by EU countries' unwillingness to commit more troops and money to Afghanistan.

The democracy uprisings in north Africa will form the backdrop to the Europe visit with the US notably letting France and the UK take the initiative on going to war in Libya, although American military strength was needed to carry out the mission.

Both sides will be keen to show that the momentum in Libya is not being lost amid a protracted conflict between rebels and forces loyal to Colonel Gadaffi.

Survey shows US losing interest in EU

People in the US and in Turkey have told a major pollster that relations with Asian countries are more important for their future than relations with the EU.


Hungary gags EU ministers on China

EU countries have shelved plans to issue a statement of moral support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong - due to Hungary's veto. Hungary is a major beneficiary of Chinese investment, including the building of a new university in Budapest.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Czech minister plotted to bury evidence on Russian attack
  2. Putin promotes Russia's 'Kalashnikov-like' vaccine
  3. Coronavirus: Indian variant clusters found across England
  4. UN report encourages EU methane cuts
  5. EU court upholds ban on bee-harming pesticides
  6. Israeli tourists welcomed back by EU
  7. EU duped into funding terrorist group, Israel says
  8. Brussels prepares portfolio of potential Covid-19 treatments

EU now 'open' to vaccine waiver, after Biden U-turn

The European Union is now ready to discuss the proposal to waive temporarily intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines - following the historic decision by Washington in favour of easing patent rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU ambassadors flock to Red Square for Putin's parade
  2. MEPs win battle for bigger citizens' voice at Conference
  3. Hungary gags EU ministers on China
  4. Poland and Hungary push back on 'gender equality' pre-summit
  5. EU preparing to send soldiers to Mozambique
  6. EU now 'open' to vaccine waiver, after Biden U-turn
  7. EU mulls using new 'peace' fund to help Libyan coast guard
  8. Poland 'breaks EU law' over judges, EU court opinion says

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us