The hoped for free trade agreement between Europe and the United States will no doubt be given as the official reason for Barack Obama’s first visit to the EU’s headquarters in March. However, some believe that the US president is actually preparing to say ‘sorry’ for spying on European leaders in person – our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude examines the landscape ahead
The inaugural Barack Obama visit to Brussels in March looks very much like a routine announcement to the untrained eye. In fact, it is hot news. United States President Obama does not like meetings held for the sake of meeting. A planned ‘summit’ in Madrid in 2010 was mysteriously cancelled. An assembly was held in Washington in 2011. There were no meet and greets in 2012 or 2013
So why is the US president coming to Brussels for the first time in his presidency? His attitude is that he shuns photo opportunities and talks only if there is something important to talk about. This time, there is something. Obama is on the defensive over the eavesdropping activities of the US National Security Agency. His explanations are qualified by what he and his advisers regard as measures essential to national security in America.
He could not come to Brussels without having some kind of justification and contrition to offer to the European leaders – and the European Commission – who were spied on. We can expect a carefully constructed form of words adding up to assurances that the intentions were not unjustified but are not now being pursued. How will anybody know, unless there are undetected whistleblowers?
Generally, European Union-US summits produce nothing new – rather an enumeration of what the two sides already do in partnership and a statement of their firm resolve to continue doing them. So far, as the world knows, there is nothing new of this kind in the offing.
The expectation is that in the body of the press release, there will be firm statements of resolve – to carry forward to completion the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; to seek common purpose in the G8, to maintain development aid in Africa and Asia, to encourage democracy where it is under threat, to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme is not military and to reward it by reducing sanctions, to appeal for peace in Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Ukraine and so on – and to look forward to stable democracy in Afghanistan now that the mission is accomplished. Sorry, enough of the platitudes. The only reason for having summits is that they happen. This time, there is a rabbit in the hat.