Busy Obama says his picnicking days are over

CAEN, France (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama, facing criticism for not staying longer in Europe during an overseas trip this week, said on Saturday he was too busy for gentle strolls or picnics in the park.

Obama spent less than a day in Germany on Friday and is due to leave Paris on Sunday after a brief stay in France where he is enjoying a short private break with his family after wrapping up his public duties in a matter of hours.

“I have a very tough schedule,” he told reporters when asked about his quick fire visit.

“I would love nothing more than to have a leisurely week in Paris, stroll down the Seine, take my wife out to a nice meal, have a picnic in Luxembourg gardens. Those days are over for the moment,” he added.

Some commentators have questioned whether his short stay indicated a lack of interest in Europe, and French officials have expressed surprise, in private, that he could not even find the time for an official reception at Sarkozy’s Elysee Palace.

“I think it’s important to understand that good friends don’t worry about the symbols and the conventions and the protocols,” Obama said, dismissing the suggestion he was snubbing his French host.

“At some point I will be the ex-president, and then you will find me in France I’m sure quite a bit, having fun,” he said, adding that for now his priority was to sort out his country’s financial problems.

Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Francois Murphy