The European Union hailed President Barack Obama's early commitment to the Middle East peace process Friday, calling his predecessor a slowpoke. EU officials have been heartened by the appointment of former Sen. George Mitchell as US Mideast envoy at a time when peace talks are in shambles. The administration of former President George W. Bush "really turned its attention to the Middle East rather late," said Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency. Obama's early commitment to the Middle East process means "there is real hope for progress in the region," Schwarzenberg said after chairing the opening day of a two-day EU foreign ministers meeting. The EU foreign ministers were encouraged by Obama's commitment to a two-state solution: separate Israeli and Palestinian states existing side-by-side in peace.