Stanley's blog

President Obama did the EU a favour by deciding not to attend the scheduled 24-25 May EU-US summit in Madrid, for two reasons. First, because he prevents Spain from ignoring the spirit of Lisbon. Second, it will force the EU to rethink the whole issue of third country summits. Athough originally apparently a US practice, the Union seems to love holding summits. Why?

Summits are an opportunity for publicising the both the role of the EU and its external relationships. It is also an opportunity for personal grandstanding and photo-ops. Finally, it can paradoxically help disguise inaction (“Do not confuse movement with progress”)

The European Union holds too many bilateral summits too often, sometimes with unclear agendas.

The Spanish EU Presidency has announced a record number of bilateral summits:

8 March EU-Morocco in Granada;
21 April EU-Pakistan, Brussels;
28 April EU-Japan, Tokyo
3-4 May Alliance of Civilizations conference, Córdoba
16 May EU-Mexico, in Santander
17 May EU-Chile, Madrid
18 May EU-Latin America and Carribean, Madrid
19 May EU-Andean Community, Madrid
19 May EU-MERCOSUR, Madrid
20 May EU-Central America, Madrid
24 May EU-US, Madrid
30 May EU-Russia, Rostov
31 May EU-Canada, Brussels
6 June EU-Egypt, Barcelona
7 June Union for the Mediterranean, Barcelona

I am confident that the Belgians, who succeed the Spaniards to the revolving Presidency in July 2010, will go along with Herman Van Rompuy’s wishes.

Under no circumstances should the EU-US Summit be held during the Spanish Presidency, even in Brussels. And the opportunity should be taken to re-examine the role of summits, how they should be organized, what should happen at them, and how they fit into the bilateral process. Deadlines and photo-ops must not to be the only way to facilitate decision-making. We Europeans love process, but we need more substance in our external relations work.

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