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EU-US relations

February 2, 2010

Brussels is disgruntled by US President Barack Obama's decision not to attend the EU-US summit in May. Washingon, however, insists the move is not meant as a snub against Brussels.

US President Barack Obama
Obama remains "committed to a strong US-EU partnership"Image: AP

The White House on Monday said US President Barack Obama had no plans to attend the annual EU-US summit scheduled for May in Spain.

Washington however stressed that the decision should not be interpreted as a snub to the European Union.

"The president is committed to a strong US-EU partnership, and with Europe in general," National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said.

Obama is increasingly facing challenges implementing his domestic reform agenda and has indicated that in 2010 he will spend more time on home soil. His approval ratings in the US have dropped as the economic recovery has been slow to translate onto the job market.

Officials in Brussels reacted with disappointment to the news. "It is normally the case that the summits are summits precisely because they are attended by heads of state and government," EU commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hanson told reporters.

According to newsagency AFP, sources close to the Spanish government have indicated that the summit might be postponed following Washington's announcement. Spain currently holds the rotating EU presidency and is to host the summit.

Domestic challenges

US and EU flags
Obama yet has to meet with new EU President van RompuyImage: AP

US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon on Monday told reporters that it never had been on Obama's agenda to attend the Spanish summit.

Gordon stressed that the US president remained committed to close transatlantic ties with a keen eye on cooperation on Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, the global economic crisis and climate change.

"The president as you all know has travelled to Europe in his first year more than any president has ever done in the past," Gordon said.

Obama travelled six times to Europe last year, most recently to the Copenhagen climate summit in December. Yet with congressional polls coming up in November, he is expected to travel mainly within the US in support for Democratic candidates fearing a Republican rebound.

Since 1997, the European Union and the US have held annual meetings. This year's summit is scheduled for May 24.

Obama's absence at the summit would likely be regarded as a blow for Brussels. The new president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, has yet to formally meet with Obama.

Editor: Rob Turner