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Still no “president of Europe”

A brand new round of "Obama is neglecting Europe" hand-wringing has been set off by the president’s decision not to attend a planned U.S.-EU summit in Madrid in the spring. The decision seems understandable — the president racked up a record number of frequent flyer miles during his first year with 10 foreign trips to ...

PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images
PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images

A brand new round of "Obama is neglecting Europe" hand-wringing has been set off by the president’s decision not to attend a planned U.S.-EU summit in Madrid in the spring. The decision seems understandable — the president racked up a record number of frequent flyer miles during his first year with 10 foreign trips to 21 nations including six trips to Europe and he’s already scheduled to travel to Portugal in the fall for a NATO summit. Though, once again, the administration’s timing is unfortunate with a now-embarrassed Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero visiting Washington this week. 

But, as the Wall Street Journal reported, the flap has also revealed that even after the ratification of the Lisbon treaty and the installation of Herman von Rompuy as President of the European Council, the administration still isn’t sure who their main European interlocutor is supposed to be:

U.S. officials also said there is confusion over whether the summit will be hosted by Spain, which currently holds the EU presidency, or Brussels, where the EU has its headquarters. The State Department official pointed to the changing structure of the EU since the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon in December. This year’s summit, he noted, will be the first since the treaty formally established an EU political president in Brussels and empowered the EU bureaucracy to be the principal negotiating body for the European states.

As a result, the official said, the State Department was still in consultations with the Europeans over whether the summit was being hosted by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, whose government heads the rotating EU presidency, or EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, both of whom are based in Brussels. Another U.S. official said that this confusion has fueled U.S. hesitance to commit to the meeting.

The Times added:

European officials admitted Tuesday that there is a difficult transition under way as the first president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and the new European head of foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, move into their jobs and fill out their staffs. In the meantime, since the work must be done, Spain, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, is taking an important role in planning the European Union’s agenda and summits.

Henry Kissinger’s famous question, "If I want to call Europe, who do I call?" still seems to be unanswered.  

 Twitter: @joshuakeating

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