by MONITOR

BARACK Obama's decision not to attend the annual EU-US summit in Madrid in May has been badly mishandled by Washington. Prime Minister Zapatero has every reason to feel snubbed -- as has Europe as a whole -- and his scheduled informal meeting with the President in Washington tomorrow will not be easy. The list of excuses offered by the White House has been pathetic, from saying that “the meeting was never in the President's diary so it can't be said it has been cancelled” to claiming that Obama was “six times in Europe last year and has met Zapatero twice”. Does the total of six meetings in Europe last year include Mr Obama's 24-hour round-trip to plead the case for Chicago as the venue for the 2016 Olympics?

The word is being put about that Obama was not greatly impressed by the EU-US summit last year and, anyway, thinks it is not clear how implementation of the Lisbon Treaty will affect EU representation at this year's summit.

Obviously, President Obama is under tremendous pressure at the moment and is disinclined to give much time to foreign policy. That having been said, it is not unreasonable to ask why two senior White House staff members travelled to Madrid two weeks ago for a preparatory meeting on the summit -- but never gave the slightest indication that there was any doubt about it taking place.