President Obama can’t seem to get his fill of summits. Monday he hosts yet another one, capping a month in which he has attended seven summits on four continents. This time, he gets to stay in the White House and the leaders he will meet aren’t exactly household names. But the topics – the European debt crisis, China, Syria, and Egypt – are the same that headlined the earlier summits.
The occasion is the annual U.S.-EU summit and representing the European Union’s 27 countries are European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton. The leaders will meet for about two hours in the Roosevelt Room before continuing talks over lunch in the Cabinet Room and a concluding press conference.
The meeting also comes at an unfortunate time for Obama who at the G-20 summit in Cannes pressed the Europeans to take bolder steps to deal with their debt crisis. But with last week’s very-public collapse of the super committee’s work here, Obama is certain to face questions from the Europeans about whether Washington is capable of similarly bold action to confront American debt.
The EU leaders will argue that in the last month they have approved a comprehensive plan and watched both Greece and Italy adopt new governments committed to politically unpopular but fiscally necessary austerity. “This should reassure the markets and should reassure President Obama,” said Joao Vale de Almeida, the EU ambassador to the United States. He added that Van Rompuy and Barroso will also tell Obama what further steps they are taking. “We are doing what is necessary to create mechanisms, decision-making procedures, and governance tools to address the fundamental issues.”
The central message they will take to the Oval Office, said the ambassador, is “Europe is doing its homework. Individual countries are doing their homework. They are painfully implementing measures that are not politically easy.”
In return, of course, the president can expect the visiting leaders to ask him what he is doing on this side of the Atlantic to match the European actions. Many of them were dismayed at the debt ceiling debacle. And nothing that occurred with the supercommittee did anything to allay their concerns.
William Kennard, the U.S. ambassador to the EU, last week told reporters in Brussels that most of the discussion at the White House will be about the European crisis. “We fully expect that when President Obama sits down with presidents Van Rompuy and Barroso, there will be a lot of discussion about this because it affects us all so profoundly,” said Kennard, according to Reuters. He added, “The outcome of this crisis is pretty unpredictable. I think that’s fair to say. We have offered our advice and counsel and I hope it’s been helpful.”
Kennard said he did not want to make that advice public but said it was fair to say the United States wants “a more significant firewall” to keep the debt contagion from spreading and then to have European banks recapitalized to deal with the situation.
Ambassador de Almeida stressed that the sessions will be much broader than just the European situation. He said the leaders want to send the message that the United States and the EU countries are working together. “We believe that we can do more than we are doing now,” he said. “It is important to exchange notes and analyses of where we are on each side of the Atlantic. But it is also important from our point of view that we move to action in the sense of trying to identify areas, means, tools, and approaches where we can try to maximize the capacity of this relationship to promote growth.”
He said the leaders expect Obama to give a report on his recent run of summits in Hawaii, Australia, and Indonesia. Those summits included Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, North American Leaders, Association of South East Asia Nations and East Asia Summit countries. There is always concern in Europe when presidents go to Asia and declare, as Obama did, that the United States is a Pacific nation or that the 21st Century will be an Asian Century.
But de Almeida said Europe does not fear American engagement in Asia and the Pacific. “Our position on that is very clear,” he said. “We don’t see the Pacific as an alternative to Europe or Europe as an alternative to the Pacific. We are all committed, interested, and engaged with the Pacific region and we believe there is a lot we can do together.”
He said the policies to be explored at the White House meetings and in side meetings on energy and trade are “not anti-Chinese.” Instead, he characterized them as “pro-European and pro-American.
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