Media reaction on Friday to the one-day EU summit chaired by British Prime Minister was one of disbelief. Many papers could not recall a more useless and shallow example of posturing with no outcomes.
Hampton Court's gardens produced more than the EU talks
While British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that the European Union was "back on track," Europe's press on Friday found that the one-day EU summit was a "bizarre" show of relaxed leaders who dodged the most crucial issues facing the 25-nation bloc.
"It was one of the most bizarre EU summits," wrote the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, noting the calm and relaxed atmosphere of the gathering at London's Hampton Court palace.
While European leaders maintained the friendly atmosphere, on the issues facing the bloc "no one moved an inch," said the Italian leftist newspaper La Repubblica, resulting in a summit that it called "embarrassed and embarrassing."
A summit of impasse
In such a setting, it would have been a shame to have spoiled it all.
Spain's conservative daily ABC slammed it as a "summit of impasse" which had culminated in "neither pain nor glory" and left too many questions unanswered at a time when the direction of Germany's new coalition government is unclear and as France creeps towards 2007 presidential elections.
On the critical concerns over the EU budget, the French daily Liberation noted that Britain was still not budging on its rebate and France remained firm on farm subsidies. "Nothing will be done in Europe as long as these two sacred cows are not immolated," commentator Patrick Sabatier wrote.
A facade of forced smiles
British Prime Minister Tony Blair puts on a brave face.
Even with Chirac weakened politically after French voters defeated the EU constitution referendum, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on his way out of government, Blair, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency until year's end, has not been able to make any progress on contentious issues facing the bloc, and only achieved "the facade of forced smiles at Hampton Court," Liberation said.
A similar sentiment was echoed by La Repubblica editorialist Andrea Bonanni, who described the EU as "divided... without leadership and without prospects."
A facade of cooperation was also the description in the Italian economic daily Il Sole-24 Ore which said "Tony Blair got the show of success that he wanted but now it is a matter of turning those intentions into facts."
Blair credited with reducing tensions
Still, the Spanish press gave Blair some credit for organizing an "exercise in reflection," the Madrid center-right daily El Mundo wrote. The informal summit served "to reduce the tension among the 25," it said.
Blair did get some credit for trying to push Europe in the right direction.
"All seem agreed that globalization represents a challenge which one must prepare for and that there must be investment in research and development as the United Kingdom proposes," the paper concluded.
But what it amounted to was "Good questions, hardly any answers," the Vienna center-left daily Der Standard wrote.
Blair has promised to deliver a deal on the EU's 2007-2013 budget by the end of year after talks collapsed amid acrimony in June, and with pressure growing for an accord, notably from EU newcomer states awaiting much-needed EU funds.
With its "facade of optimism" the one-day summit ended with all the complicated issues being "referred to the next European summit in December," the Rome daily La Stampa concluded.