The idea of a "qualitative leap" in the bi-regional negotiations
between the European Union (EU) and the countries of Latin America and
the Caribbean (LAC) seems to have become a main objective of the upcoming
EU-LAC Summit to be held in Spain next year.
This Summit will be preceded by the XIX Ibero-American Summit that will
take place next November in Estoril (Portugal) and whose main focus will
be the key issues of innovation and knowledge (see
The qualitative leap should enable to adapt a bi-regional process with
ten years of history to the new global and regional realities. The world,
Europe and Latin America are today very different from what they were
when the original layout for the strategic bi-regional association was
conceived. Ignoring such changes would mean running deep into a path which
would lead to the irrelevance of the mechanism of bi-regional summits.
This does not seem to be the strategic interest of any of the regions
involved, especially with relation to the common goal of achieving the
development of an effective multilateralism that facilitates global governance.
More recently, the global crisis and the deep transformations that are
operating in world power -of which the recent Yekaterinburg (Russia) BRIC
Summit is but one of the numerous evidences- make it an unavoidable task
to adapt the goals, agendas and especially the working methods of the
bi-regional transatlantic relations. It would be befitting to undertake
this task with a vision of the future -such as the next ten years- and
concrete and flexible action plans -roadmaps- that take into account the
changes that are also taking place in the United States -of which the
"Obama factor" is more than just a symbol- and in hemispheric
relations, as well as the strong and growing presence of China in Latin
The idea of such a qualitative leap in the transatlantic bi-regional
relation was raised by Juan Pablo de Laiglesia, State Secretary for Ibero-American
Affairs of the Spanish government, on his recent visit to Latin America.
During his stay in Montevideo he specifically pointed out that "the
message is twofold: we want to take advantage of the presidency of the
Union to prompt a qualitative leap in the relations between the European
Union and Latin America, both at a global level as well as at the level
of the Latin American sub-regional groups." He also stated that Spain's
intention is to "move past declarations into concrete action plans
that also enable us to turn this dialogue between Latin America and the
European Union into a constant issue in our agendas and with elements
for follow-up". He also added that "we are interested in making
this dialogue something permanent and not just circumscribed to the Summits,
with an action plan that signals routes of joint action for the future"
Previously, the European Commissioner for External Relations, Benita
Ferrero-Waldner, had made declarations along the same lines by stating
that "the next EU-LAC Summit should contribute to the strengthening
of political dialogue, reflecting the most pressing issues of our bi-regional
agenda in 2010". She added that "we should also be capable of
utilizing the remaining time until this Summit to devise an action plan
for the approval of our Heads of State and Government. An action plan
that would aid in the execution of a project of cohesive character in
areas of great integration impact
with the participation of governments,
the civil society and the private sector, within the framework of a renovated
bi-regional Association" (click
to see the document).
In both cases, relevant protagonists in the preparation process of the
next EU-LAC Summit have placed the stress on the key issue of bi-regional
relations after a ten year experience which began with the 1999 Rio de
Janeiro Summit. Aside from the objectives and the agendas that are sought
through this work mechanism, this refers to the methods used to translate
the idea of joint action into reality.
To a great extent the difficulties that have been faced and that may
account for the meager results obtained until now, are a consequence of
the diversities and asymmetries that exist between the forms of organization
of both regional geographic spaces. Professor Piero Pennetta from the
University of Salerno has made this fact manifest in a well documented
book of recent publication (see the reference in the Recommended Readings
Section at the end of this Newsletter).
In fact, one of the regions is organized through the European Union as
an integrated economic and, increasingly, political space. The other region
is fragmented into different institutional ambits, some of which are not
even perceived as being strong or efficient -such as the Andean Community
of Nations and to a certain degree Mercosur- and some others which have
not yet attained the capacity to express the collective point of view
of their member countries -such as UNASUR whose constituent agreement
has not become effective yet.
On the one hand, in Europe, there is a relatively solid institutional
construct with a great potential for irreversibility, in spite of the
difficulties that have become manifest by the differentiated effects of
the current economic crisis and the delays in concluding the process initiated
by the Treaty of Lisbon. On the other hand, in Latin America and the Caribbean
prevails precarious and scattered integration efforts. As a result the
situation is far from irreversible in terms of the creation of institutions
that can organize the regional space within the logic of integration.
Some of the outstanding issues in the transatlantic bi-regional relation
could be eventually resolved before or during the 2010 Summit. Most probably,
the association agreement between the EU and Central American countries
will be finalized on this occasion. Also there has been some progress
in the bilateral negotiations between Colombia and Peru and the EU, and
it is even possible that a bilateral agreement is signed with Ecuador.
All these would add to the existing agreements with Chile and Mexico.
Also, the EU has concluded a strategic alliance agreement with Brazil
that does not include commercial preferences but that encompasses a wide
spectrum of joint actions. Most of them had already been contemplated
in the EU-Mercosur Framework Cooperation Agreement, signed in Madrid in
1995 and still in force. It is to be seen how the work agenda outlined
by this new bilateral agreement is translated into reality, considering
that the one included in the Madrid Treaty never materialized through
relevant actions. Also to be seen is the future impact that this initiative
will have in the cohesiveness of Mercosur. Beyond the repeated declarations
originating from both Brazil and the EU, it becomes difficult to understand
the bi-lateral extent of this strategic alliance if it is viewed from
the perspective of the reiterated explicit interest of strengthening Mercosur.
It has not been possible to finalize the bi-regional association agreement
between the EU and Mercosur yet (on this issue, refer to the November
2008 issue of this Newsletter). The most obvious reason - at least the
most mentioned - continues to be the fact that in order to conclude the
corresponding commercial negotiations it would be necessary to move forward
with or finish the Doha Round first. The fact is that there are no apparent
reasons, at least for the time being, to expect a favorable outcome, neither
in regards to the pending negotiations within the WTO nor in reference
to the bi-regional negotiations between the EU and Mercosur.
Consequently, it would seem advisable that in the preparation process
for the next EU-LAC Summit a strong emphasis is placed in the working
methods used to carry out a renovated transatlantic bi-regional agenda
adapted to the new challenges faced by both regions. In fact, the accumulated
experience indicates that it would be necessary to introduce operative
modalities that enable to preserve the needed political drive through
time and, simultaneously, to adapt the roadmap to the incessant changes
that will continue to develop both in the global and regional realities.
The main issues of the bi-regional agenda go beyond the level of preferential
trade negotiations in the sense stated by GATT regulations (article XXIV).
They are related with some of the issues that demand collective answers
at a global scale, such as those of climate change and the environment;
the reform of international financial institutions; the preservation of
the conditions for the integration of transnational production chains;
food safety; new sources of energy and, collective security among others.
Additionally, new non-preferential modalities should also be included
in the agenda of bi-regional transatlantic relations to increase trade
and investment flows; the financial support for infrastructure projects
to improve the quality of the physical connections among markets and,
also, the cooperation towards the development of those Latin American
countries of lesser economic dimension. In regards to this last aspect,
the ample cooperation experience of the EU with developing countries,
even with those from within Europe itself, could contribute to the realization
of projects of triangular cooperation including also an active participation
of the more developed countries of Latin America.
A concrete idea to move forward with the preparation of the next EU-LAC
Summit would be to commission a working group formed by high-ranking independent
personalities -possessing both prestige and experience- the elaboration
of a policy-oriented report which includes the evaluation of the progress
made during the last ten years and the assessment of the priority fields
for future joint action. In particular, this report should include suggestions
on the working methods that would be most effective in order to preserve
the political momentum of the bi-regional relations, the continuous adaptation
to the new realities and the capacity to translate commitments into actual
In addition, it would be convenient to obtain, through such practice,
a strong participation of the business sector and of other sectors of
the civil society, so that the qualitative leap that is attempted through
the next EU-LAC Summit could have an ample support base and social legitimacy.
Furthermore, the regional parliamentary institutions should be actively
consulted as well.