Barroso to tell Obama: Together we do better

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US President Barack Obama will meet EU leaders for a two-hour meeting in Lisbon on the sidelines of a NATO summit on Saturday (20 November).

The EU-US summit will take the form of a two-hour meeting with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

Upon the insistence of the US, the meeting will be held on the sidelines of a NATO summit in the Portuguese capital, where the ongoing Afghan war is expected to top the agenda.

"We elegantly and graciously accepted to have [the EU-US summit] in Lisbon because the US insisted," an EU diplomat said.

Indeed, the European Union was keen to see the summit take place, even in a short format, rather than see it cancelled by the United States, which happened last May (see 'Background').

G20 and climate change

EU leaders are expected to concentrate on areas where the transatlantic allies can have a greater impact on world affairs, diplomats said. In the short time available, two "shared objectives" are expected to dominate the meeting.

First, the two partners are keen to exchange information on the political constraints under which each side is operating. From the EU side, Obama will be asked about his foreign policy ambitions after the setback he suffered in the November mid-term elections.

"You have to go to all the misunderstandings before you go to the understandings," the EU diplomat said.

The second objective was to identify "more win-wins in the transatlantic dimension," which are currently not fully exploited, the diplomat added.

The three leaders are also expected to touch upon the multilateral context, following the recent G20 meeting in Seoul, the NATO meeting the day before, and the Cancún climate change summit a few days later. The questions to be addressed are how the transatlantic allies could better address rebuilding the global economy, meeting the climate change challenge and boosting global security.

"The G20 meeting was interesting not only because of the few things which happened, but by the many things which didn't happen. Leaders may wish to compare notes and discuss how they can push the agenda further," the EU diplomat said.

Regarding the Cancún summit, he explained that EU wanted to know "where the Americans stand, how far they can go, with what state of mind they are going to Cancún".

Economic and energy issues

On Friday, the EU-US Energy Council will take place, with the participation of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger.

In this format, the EU and the US are expected to explore what things could be done together in fields such as green technology, green standards, green norms and green jobs.

"If Europeans and Americans want to remain in the lead in terms of developing alternative energies, developing common standards, common norms, climate-related technologies, they need to cooperate. It's not an easy game to play, because regulators on each side always say their system is best," diplomats explained.

The EU and the US teams are also expected to explore ways to give life to the Transatlantic Economic Council, which was created under the Bush administration but has not been very active. Here again, each side is expected to try to better involve and integrate national regulators in bilateral contacts.

Both the US and the EU are eager to engage in deeper cooperation in the fields of cyber and network security. The EU-US summit is expected to decide to establish a working group on a bilateral basis.

A high-level US representative alluded to the difficulties her administration had encountered in contacts with EU representatives since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty,

"I think that one observes a certain amount of hand-wringing on the part of the people that you meet with," said Maria Otero, US Under-Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

"And some of them do that hand-wringing […] because there are still many things that are not resolved" in the EU's new diplomatic set-up, she told journalists during an October visit to Brussels.

"There might be a period of time in which some pieces of it will be a little more difficult," she admitted, acknowledging that it will take some time to put into place all the pieces of the EU's diplomatic puzzle.

"But overall, I think that our own ability continue partnering with the EU will be enhanced as the EU reorganises itself to be more effective in its own work," said Otero, adding that she already works "very well" with EU officials on the issues that she deals with.

Monique Goyens, director general of European consumers' organisation BEUC urged political leaders to recognise that "consumer protection and economic cooperation must go hand in hand".

Consumer organisations from both sides of the Atlantic signed a letter to respective Presidents Obama, Van Rompuy and Barroso advising that consumer priorities must be an important element of EU-US economic and regulatory cooperation.

"The EU and US economic partnership accounts for 4.28 trillion dollars," she said, underlining that economic cooperation between the powers "should work for consumers and create safer, fairer and more vibrant marketplaces".

"Bad financial products still exist, consumer privacy in the digital age must be better protected and products can be made safer […] When our political figureheads pull themselves together they can use this summit to issue a clear signal that consumer interests are their priorities too," she added, calling for a strong statement to be issued on the subject at next month's Transatlantic Economic Council.

The EU-US relationship came under increasing strain during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, with issues such as the war in Iraq and the War on Terror dividing Europeans and Americans alike.

With the election of Barack Obama, the EU got the US president it wanted. However, the EU's high expectations were not met, as illustrated by the reluctance of European leaders to engage more in Afghanistan, the disillusions of the Copenhagen climate summit, and Obama's decision to snub the 24-25 May EU-US Madrid summit.

More recently, the European Parliament refused to rubber-stamp the interim SWIFT agreement between the EU and the US on the transfer of citizens' financial data to prevent terrorist attacks.

However, as well as representing an ideological divide, the SWIFT issue appeared as an affirmation of the European Parliament's increased power under the Lisbon Treaty. MEPs approved a revised SWIFT agreement in July by 484 votes to 109.

  • 20 Nov.: EU-US summit, Lisbon.

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