Tough snub

Obama’s snub of the May EU-US summit is tough, but fair. If it wants to be taken seriously on the world stage, the EU must stop complaining and learn from this and other recent disappointments

“Hard pressed on
my right. My centre is giving way. Impossible to manoeuvre. Situation
excellent. I attack.”

Ferdinand Foch,
the pugnacious general credited with stabilising the collapsing French front in
1914, would find much to gratify him in today’s Brussels. At the very moment when the Lisbon
Treaty was meant, at long last, to be introducing a new dawn of unity and
effectiveness in European foreign policy, exactly the reverse seems to be

It is not just
the obvious set-backs – the Copenhagen
summit debacle, the appointment of two virtual unknowns to the new post-Lisbon
leadership roles. Even more worrisome has been the sense of collapsing
discipline and cohesion, exemplified by wholly pointless French campaign to
undermine Catherine Ashton, and the egregious Spanish effort to ingratiate
themselves with the Chinese by hinting at a lifting of the European arms

And now, to top
it all off, the Obama Snub. For such indeed it was – behind all the diplomatic
talk of misunderstandings, two unpalatable messages were being conveyed to

First, this US Administration
is out of patience with a European approach to summit diplomacy which has
everything to do with the vanity and domestic political profile of the
summiteers, and nothing to do with the efficient conduct of business. The
ineptitude of Europe’s inflated collective leadership,
with everyone crowding into camera shot, was brutally exposed at Copenhagen – and now the US
is affirming that it will do what it can to avoid further dealings with it, as
long as Europe’s national leaders resist the streamlining that Lisbon was meant to bring

Second, even an
agenda focused on a limited number of topics of particular concern to the US – like Iran – (for this was how the Spanish
tried to reshape their summit in an unavailing final effort to save it) is no use if the European side has nothing new or interesting to say
about them. An effective EU/US strategic dialogue will take place only when
Europeans know their own minds – which will first require them to engage each
other in serious discussion of the tough issues such as policy towards Russia, or Afghanistan, and to thrash out
their differences as Europeans within the EU, rather than studiously avoiding
such questions as at present.

Can Europe’s
national leaders take these messages to heart? If so, then the gloom that today
envelopes Brussels
may turn out to be the dark hour before the dawn.

Later this year Europe’s new diplomatic
service will begin to take shape: Van Rompuy and Ashton, the struggling
generals of Europe’s common foreign policy, will
actually have troops to command. They should draw their inspiration from the
rugged Foch, and treat today’s disappointments and reverses as preparing the
ground for successful counter-attack.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Senior Policy Fellow

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