EU-US summit: A surfeit of summitry

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

"The European Union holds too many bilateral summits too often, sometimes with unclear agendas," writes Stanley Crossick, founding chairman of the European Policy Centre, in a February post on Blogactiv.

"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 organised, 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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