Bickering over which countries will attend this month’s Washington financial summit – and a chance to meet Barack Obama – sidetracked Europe’s leaders at their emergency meeting on the economic crisis.
The main concern of José Luis RodrÍguez Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister, was whether he could get a seat at the gathering of G20 countries on November 15 despite one of his ministers being told by Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, that they would not be invited.
Mr Zapatero is desperate to rehabilitate Spain’s relations with the US after falling out with the Bush Administration over the Iraq war.
There was more evidence of Obama one-upmanship when it emerged that Gordon Brown had a ten-minute telephone call with the President-elect while President Sarkozy was then reported by the French media to have had a more impressive 30 minutes.
Not all European leaders were falling over themselves to cosy up to Mr Obama. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, was unrepentant in the face of criticism for calling the President-elect “young, handsome and even tanned”. Mr Berlusconi described as “imbeciles” those who questioned his remark and said that it would not damage relations. “Did you see how I was welcomed by President Bush? The same thing will happen with the new Administration,” he said.
Yesterday’s meeting of the 27 EU leaders in Brussels ended with a diluted agreement to reform the International Monetary Fund and similarly weakened proposals for improved oversight of financial markets.