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Why the US-EU Summit was Successful

By Courtney Chiles, Transatlantic Community Analyst


As President Obama met with transatlantic leaders last week for his first US-EU Summit, many policy wonks on both sides of the Atlantic declared the meeting D.O.A. before it began.  First, the Brookings Institution claimed the Summit would be a “relative disappointment”, which was followed by a CSIS interview gamely titled, “hoping for a single, anticipating a bunt” which described the summit in cautious terms and fretted over the state of the larger transatlantic relationship.  This tone carried over in number of media outlets, who emphasized the short duration of the summit and Obama’s cancellation of a previous trip to Europe in their assessment of supposedly uneventful summit.

It’s true that transatlantic leaders would have spent more time together had they sat down for a football game, but summits like this one are still essential to a well-functioning transatlantic relationship. While many have criticized the summit for a lack of concrete agreements, that’s not what this meeting was designed to do.  Instead, leaders reaped less tangible—but no less important—benefits, like a chance to develop a functioning relationship with their counterparts.  Meeting face-to-face (or, in some cases, eyeball-to-soul) allows leaders to get to know each other, and, hopefully develop trust (and slang) among them.   In a crisis situation—or even trade relations–a lot of blood and treasure can be saved if both parties can work with the person on the other end of the red telephone.  Also, bringing the heads of the EU and the US together garners media attention and brings transatlantic relations back to the foreground, which serves to remind everyone of the commonalities both sides share.  As Steven Szabo of the German Marshall Fund said recently, “It’s an easy, two-hour symbolic move for the administration to say ‘we still care,'” without taking up too much of everyone’s time.

It’s also likely this summit will have a sustainable effect on transatlantic affairs because it allows both sides to confirm important agenda items and refocus on areas where cooperation can be beneficial.  Last week Obama, Van Rompuy, and Barroso discussed improving economic relations through the Transatlantic Economic Council, working on cyber security issues, and confronting climate change, and there is sure to be a flurry of press releases in the very near future describing the redoubling of transatlantic cooperation on these issues.  Indeed, both sides agreed so readily to address shared concerns that even its participants were bored.

So, while there weren’t any headline-grabbing agreements as a result of this meeting, the US-EU summit was still a success.  These summits, which can be admittedly lacking substantive material, go a long way in helping to maintain and improve good bilateral relations between the EU and the US.

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