EU-LAC: In need of a new roadmap

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Presidents of CELAC, Rafael Correa Delgado from Ecuador, meets Donald Tusk at the Summit in Brussels. [Agencia de Noticias ANDES/Flickr]

Last week’s EU-CELAC Summit addressed a host of issues but missed the opportunity to cement the strategic relationship between Europe and South America, writes Susanne Gratius.

Susanne Gratius is Associate Researcher for FRIDE and Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

Venezuela and Greece were the most important issues discussed at the European Union-Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (EU-CELAC) Summit held in Brussels on 10-11 June. The prominence of internal questions at the second summit of this kind attests to the state of interregional relations. The diverse agenda of the summit, which concluded with three documents addressing too many issues, reflects a puzzle of relations and not a coherent region-to-region partnership. Bilateral results, such as the establishment of a post-conflict trust fund in Colombia, or the elimination of visas for Colombians and Peruvians, did not require a summit.

Negotiations between the EU and countries or institutions in Latin America take place at many levels alongside the blurred EU-CELAC agenda. These include bilateral relations – with EU strategic partners Brazil and Mexico, as well as Cuba and the free trade partners Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru – and at the sub-regional level with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Central America and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR).

While these dialogues are important, however, there are issues (like climate change or the global drugs problem) that should be handled at a region-to-region level. Both sides should also take into account their distinct priorities in relations with other external partners, for example concerning the dialogues of Latin America and the Caribbean with, respectively, China and the United States.

Despite the absence of both presidents, Cuba and Venezuela occupied a large part of the agenda. While there was agreement over the rejection of unilateral measures on Cuba, no consensus was reached regarding US sanctions against members of the Venezuelan government strongly condemned by the CELAC, while most European leaders and the EP criticised the Maduro government’s political repression. These differences over the case of Venezuela show how difficult it can be to translate shared democratic values into common action. Besides, from a human rights perspective, the EU position remains contradictory: how is full recognition of the authoritarian Cuban regime and the possible signature of a political dialogue and cooperation agreement in the next few months compatible with the EU’s condemnation of the Venezuelan government?

The summit did not deliver much progress in economic or development terms. EU-MERCOSUR negotiations are stalled and it is unlikely that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will be willing to engage in bilateral free trade negotiations with the EU, risking criticism from its BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and MERCOSUR partners. Moreover, diminishing growth rates in Latin America (1.1% in 2014) reduce European businesses’ interest in investing in a region where China’s economic clout is increasingly felt. In 2013, China’s 18.9% share of Latin American imports exceeded that of the EU. In 2014, India replaced Brazil as the ninth largest EU trade partner.

If there is little movement on both sides, why should the EU care about Latin America? There are two main reasons. First, Latin America is a middle-income region, with a large urban middle class, which is close to the United States. Given constant migration flows (around 50 million “Hispanics” live in the United States), economic, political and cultural interdependences between North and Central America will further “Latin Americanise” the United States and upgrade the region’s global presence. The EU and the US should consider opening the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to those Latin American countries that have signed agreements with both transatlantic partners.

Second, in a world of emerging megatrade blocs, Latin America has significant strategic weight. Its geographic position between two Oceans and the participation of Chile, Mexico and Peru in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), where the EU is not included, is a comparative advantage. In South America, Brazil – the seventh world economy – is a real strategic partner of the EU – not so much as a platform for European values like social cohesion, integration or liberal democracy (they compete with the Chinese model), but as a bridge between the North and South Atlantic, on the one hand, and the BRICS and the West, on the other.

The second EU-CELAC Summit missed the opportunity to connect, as Federica Mogherini said, the North and the South Atlantic. The non-strategic summit in Brussels was also another missed opportunity to confirm that the EU is a global actor beyond its neighbourhood that can help Latin America counterbalance China’s growing influence.

There is an urgent need for a new roadmap for EU-CELAC relations. In the next two years until the next summit, both regions should start a strategic debate on the comparative advantages of their relationship and on how to improve the EU-CELAC format. They should also seek to delimit the agenda to very few issues where there is real potential to achieve common positions. According to the documents agreed in Brussels, climate change, drugs and the post-Millennium Development Goals are priorities for both regions at a global level.

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