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Schadenfreude – The verdict on Barack Obama’s first Brussels visit: ‘a damp squib’

There were the expected platitudes and the pressing of flesh with handshake after handshake but the US president seemed to achieve little else with his inaugural trip to the spiritual home of the European Union. Our secret columnist Schadenfreude provides the reportage

Whatever may have been the leitmotiv of United States President Barack Obama’s discussions with the European Commission and the European Council during his inaugural visit to Brussels, it was downpaged by the Ukraine crisis. It would never have been the time or place for a searching examination of the ups and downs of European Union-US relations. And the events in the Crimea and on Ukraine’s eastern border required strong, unambiguous expressions of solidarity.

As to domestic matters, there was the expected commendation of the US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations and a ringing assurance by Obama that he would never advocate a degradation of the regulatory standards of consumer and environmental protection – one of the worries on the European side.

There was only glancing reference to the scandal of the bugging of European communications by the National Security Agency. The EU side mentioned that there had been a discussion of “data flows” and that it welcomed the reforms, which Obama had introduced into the American intelligence operation. Obama seems to have left it at that, no more no less.

The outside world will never know what was said in private. Coincidentally timed with Obama’s visit, the Russian annexation of the Crimea and the build up of its forces on Ukraine’s eastern frontier made it essential that the message from Brussels was clear. And it was. The US and the EU are firmly united in opposing Russian expansionism, said Obama. What they are actually able to do – which is very little – is not the stuff of summitry pronouncements. Did someone say the phrase ‘damp squib’?

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