The European Union holds too many bilateral summits too often, sometimes with unclear agendas. US President Barack Obama decided to skip the 24-25 May EU-US Madrid summit as a result of "excessive summitry", analysts told EURACTIV.
The White House's announcement that President Obama had no plans to travel to Madrid for a EU-US summit took the Brussels establishment by surprise.
"There were no plans for the president [Barack Obama] to travel to Spain for a summit this spring," National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer insisted in Washington on 1 February.
Without Obama's attendance, it is more likely that the summit will now be cancelled rather than downgraded.
"It is normally the case that the summits are summits precisely because they are attended by heads of state and government," European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen told the press in Brussels.
"Europeans in general tend to hold too many summits," Antonio Missiroli, director of the European Policy Centre, told EURACTIV.
"The agenda of leaders is packed with summits. Maybe focusing on fewer summits with more substance and more continuity in foreign relations in-between summits is the way ahead," Missiroli suggested.
According to the analyst, the recent trend in international relations, beyond the European Union, is that summits are the only way to accelerate decision-making.
Deadlines and the desirability of photo opportunities appear to be the only way to encourage faster decision-making, he said, describing this as a "perverse" trend in foreign relations.
"We should insist more on the substance of things, rather than on the protocol dimension," he said.
Asked if he saw a potential clash between the Spanish EU Presidency and permanent Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Missiroli said: "It is not a secret that from the beginning of the Spanish Presidency there has been a degree of tension, in particular between Mr. Van Rompuy and the Spanish government, over 'who should chair what', especially at international level," he said.
The analyst also pointed to the fact that during the first year of his presidency, Obama had flown to Europe many more times than any other US president during a similar period.
Also, he recalled the "strange situation" at last year's EU-US summit in Prague, when the host, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, chaired the summit despite the fact that his cabinet had been brought down by parliament.
"At this point, Obama told his aides: 'This is a waste of my time'," Missiroli said, adding that the potential for sequels is still there, coupled, most probably, with "possible confusion" surrounding the preparation of the summit.
Missiroli also explained that Obama is bound by national priorities with mid-term elections in sight, saying these are also an important part of the picture.
He said that the US decision should not be seen as an affront to the Spanish EU Presidency or to Europe, nor did it mean that EU-US relations had deteriorated. But it was not "entirely accidental," he concluded.