August 17, 2010 | Quote

Obama Shows Europe Some Love

Last spring, the Obama administration sent the president’s regrets for a planned European Union-U.S. summit in Madrid in May.

“Because of the changes involving the establishment of a E.U. Council president and a European Commission president on top of the rotating E.U. presidency, I think it’s taking some time to work through exactly how various high-level meetings will happen,” Assistant Secretary of the State Department Public Affairs Bureau P.J. Crowley said in February to explain the president’s unavailability. “But we look forward to ongoing dialogue.”

But Obama plans to attend a European Union summit in Portugal on Nov. 20, the White House announced Tuesday.

“President Obama will participate in a summit with the leaders of the European Union, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Lisbon, Portugal, on Nov. 20,” the White House said in a statement.

“The United States has no stronger partner than Europe in advancing security and prosperity around the world,” the White House statement continued. “The United States and the European Union are continually working together to advance a broad agenda based on a common history, shared values and enduring ties.”

What caused the president to find it worth his time? The E.U. powwow coincides with a NATO summit in Lisbon that Obama is due to attend. “So easy, and efficient for them scheduling-wise, and in terms of allocating President Obama’s time to add on an E.U. summit,” former State Department official Laurie Dundon says. “Many of the European leaders should still be in town, and can add the E.U. leadership.”

In addition, Europe has come through with surprisingly robust Iran sanctions, announced shortly after the United Nations Security Council passed a new Iran sanctions resolution in June.

The swift E.U. Iran action caused some Euro-skeptics to recalibrate. The Europeans “did their homework this time,” the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ Emanuele Ottolenghi said after the European Council issued a declaration on Iran in June. “Basically what happened is they did not wait for the U.N. Security Council to produce the Iran resolution.” Since December, “they had a parallel process to the Security Council’s where they worked to produce a list that everyone agreed on on principle, that whatever the U.N. would produce, the E.U. would go above and beyond.”

It’s also worth considering that after the November midterms, Obama may be spending more of his time on foreign policy — and looking for some reliable allies.

“If Obama has no more domestic legislative agenda [because Republicans take a house of Congress], then he will spend 100% of his time on foreign policy,” the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s David Makovsky told me last month.

The head of the E.U. delegation to the U.S. Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida welcomed Obama’s decision to attend. “This is good news for the transatlantic partnership,” he said in a statement. “There is a lot for both sides to do together to tackle common challenges. From foreign policy issues to jobs and growth, E.U. and U.S. can only benefit from an even closer cooperation.”