Obama underlines EU-US ties in first visit to Brussels

Discussions between US president and his European allies focused also on an EU-US trade deal

President Barack Obama, second from right, during a wreath laying ceremony at Flanders Field Cemetery in Waregem, Belgium, yesterday. Photograph: Doug Mills/ The New York Times

President Barack Obama, second from right, during a wreath laying ceremony at Flanders Field Cemetery in Waregem, Belgium, yesterday. Photograph: Doug Mills/ The New York Times

 


US president Barack Obama yesterday underlined the longstanding links between the US and Europe on security and defence policy, as he made his first official visit to the headquarters of the EU.

Speaking after a meeting with the heads of the European Commission and European Council in Brussels, Mr Obama described Europe as “America’s closest partner” and the “cornerstone” of its engagement across the globe.

Addressing claims of disagreement between the US and the EU on sanctions against Russia, he said there had been “excellent co-operation” between the EU and US, reiterating that both would implement deeper sanctions if necessary.

Mr Obama was speaking on the third day of a four-day tour in which he is seeking to consolidate a common position among western allies on a response to the crisis in Ukraine.

In a speech on EU-US relations at the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, he described how the EU and Nato had been built from the ashes of two world wars, a vision he said “stood in sharp contrast to life on the other side of an Iron Curtain”.


Nato presence
The US president, who earlier visited a first World War cemetery in western Belgium, also met Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, with whom he discussed bolstering Nato’s presence in eastern European countries. “We have to make sure that we have put together very real contingency plans for every one of these members, including those who came in out of central and eastern Europe,” Mr Obama said.

He suggested further help was contingent on sufficient spending by Nato members, saying all members “must chip in”.

While Ukraine dominated discussions between Mr Obama and his European allies yesterday, discussion also focused on the nascent EU-US trade deal.


Trade deal savings
It promises to unlock billions of dollars of savings for the two blocs, but faces challenges from stakeholders on both sides, particularly in the areas of agriculture and food safety.

Stressing the importance of ensuring benefits for small companies, the US president said a new trade deal between the EU and US would not lead to lower consumer standards.

Ahead of next week’s EU-US energy council, which will be attended by US secretary of state John Kerry, Mr Obama said that while a trade agreement would pave the way for export licences for US liquefied natural gas (LNG) into Europe, the EU needed to develop its own energy resources. “It is useful for Europe to look at its own energy assets as well as how the United States can supply additional energy assets,” he said.

The issue of Europe’s dependency on Russian energy imports has emerged as a central theme of the Ukraine crisis, with a number of countries raising the possibility of importing LNG resources from the US.

So far the EU has stopped short of endorsing shale exploration, which has seen energy prices plummet in the US, although countries such as the UK and Poland are pursuing opportunities in shale extraction.