Europe Still Has Too Many Chiefs

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Byline: William Underhill

Good news for true believers in the European Union: this week President Obama will make an appearance at an EU-U.S. meeting in Lisbon. Europhiles haven't forgotten Obama's previous blow to the bloc's prestige when Washington canceled a meeting in May: the no-show was widely interpreted as a snub at a moment when Europe had hoped to revive its global standing.

Yet an awkward question remains: why should Obama bother with the EU? (One easy answer is that he'll be in town anyhow for a NATO gathering.) Sure, there are plenty of meaty issues on the transatlantic agenda, from Iran's nuclear program to climate change. But despite the recent Lisbon reforms that were supposed to streamline EU decision making, Europe still lacks the unity it needs for a proper partnership with the U.S. "The Europeans need to realize that if they want to be taken seriously then they have to be relevant," says Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform, a London think tank.

Unfortunately, that would require a clarity of purpose the EU has yet to achieve. Take the continuing muddle over who's in charge in Brussels. Since the Lisbon Treaty, the EU can boast a full-time president of the European Council (Herman van Rompuy), a president of the European Commission (Jose Manuel Barroso), and a high representative for foreign affairs (Catherine Ashton). …