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EU awaiting Obama's confirmation of summit attendance

Mon 1st Feb 2010

The EU expects President Obama to attend an EU-US summit in Madrid in May, despite reports that he is not planning to come, officials in Brussels said Monday. Spain, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, had scheduled the annual EU-US summit for May 24. However, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Obama had decided not to attend, preferring to focus on domestic issues.

Reacting to the report, European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said that she was "not aware of any such situation", She continued mentioning how "It is normally the case that the summits are summits precisely because they are attended by heads of state and government."

Since 1997, the EU and US have held an annual summit, with a rough rotation between meetings on either side of the Atlantic.

Obama made a record number of visits - six - to Europe in 2009, including major events such as NATO's 60th anniversary (April) and the Copenhagen conference on climate change (December). He hosted the EU's presidency, held at that time by Sweden, in November.

However, his domestic agenda is now under threat following the shock election of a Republican Senator in Massachusetts on January 20, leaving him keen to focus on issues at home.

Any decision to skip the summit would be a severe blow for the EU, which is struggling to present itself as a reliable partner for US foreign policy.

In particular, it would be painful for Spain, which had hoped to host the high-profile guest, and for the new president of the council of EU member states, Herman Van Rompuy, who has not yet met formally with Obama.

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