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Friday, August 13, 2010

Lacking confidence

In global affairs, the EU seems to suffer from a peculiar lack of confidence, stemming from its all too frequent failure to come up with anything meaningful to say on the world stage.

This is probably also why EU leaders attach such a huge importance to summits and institutions, such as the External Action Service - they serve as a way for the EU to cover up the absence of substantive policies.

As we've argued before, this is completely the wrong approach. Being an influential voice in the world stems from being a competitive and vibrant global actor with real policies on offer - not from obsessing about family photos, meetings and artificially created institutions. The rest of the world usually sees through the EU's charades, as was evident from the infamous "Obama snub" back in February, when it emerged that the American President had decided to give the EU-US summit a miss this year.

Now we hear that the EU is hoping that a summit with the Americans will go ahead after all, slightly postponed. EU officials hope that they can tack on a meeting to a Nato summit in Lisbon in November.

The newly appointed EU Ambassador to the US João Vale de Almeida - who apparently hopes that he will be "the leading show" among European representatives in Washington DC - complains in the FT about the lack of attention the US gives the EU. “Not being a problem does not mean we should not be a priority,” he says. "There’s untapped potential in this relationship ... We can co-operate better on foreign policy, from Iran to Pakistan, to the Middle East and the Balkans", which is probably true, but again, the focus must be on substance and not handshakes for the sake of them.

A senior US administration official quoted in the FT explains in plain American why the EU shouldn't have too high hopes about incorporating President Obama into its meetings-and-institutions culture:
This president is not a schmoozer – he doesn’t hang out. We don’t feel the need to profess love because it’s a fact of life that Europe is our main partner, in everything that we do in the world … Do you need to say that all the time?
Apparently you do.

So, while EU officials sob about their hurt feelings, here are some suggested themes for an EU-US summit, which could help lure Obama to Europe:
  • How to create a financial regulatory framework which underpins global initiatives rather than undermines them;
  • How to create a cost-effective model for cutting emissions - one that the rest of world can follow;
  • How to cut tariffs and reform rules of origin to free up global trade;
  • How to produce fewer and better laws to make Europe a more attractive market;
  • How to put the money where your mouth is on defence.
Just to start off with.

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