This debate over the current situation and future relations between Europe and Latin America, which took place last 23 of January, coincided with the launch of a new book of the same title. It was coordinated by Casa América, FRIDE, Fundación Carolina and ICEI and co-financed by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).
The first point of reflection was the usefulness of political dialogue between the two regions. Although the panellists underlined the importance of political dialogue, which was institutionalised in the 1980s, they also affirmed that it was necessary to reactivate this communication and achieve concrete results.
Taking into account the reduced demographic weight of Latin America and the European Union in the world, an alliance between the two with regard to common interests (the environment, democracy, peace), would boost their global influence. In this sense, and in the run-up to the V Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union Summit, to be held in Lima in May, the panellists backed the book’s recommendation that the agenda should focus on a few concrete areas of mutual interest.
With regard to the format of dialogue, the existence of ten inter-regional fora, which demonstrates the complexity of Latin American integration, was emphasised. The current centrifugal tendency in the region has resulted in a “crisis of inter-regionalism”, according to ICEI's Cooperation and Development department Director José Antonio Sanahuja, which is reflected in the difficulties currently bedevilling association agreement negotiations in both MERCOSUR and the Andean Community.
On the other hand, it was also pointed out the EU has already signed agreements with two bilateral partners: Chile and Mexico. In 2007 it likewise granted Brazil the status of “strategic partner”. Although policies of exclusion do not seem to be on the agenda, it is not clear whether the EU will continue to pursue an inter-regional approach or instead give preference to bilateralism.
With the latter option in mind, Albert Navarro, Spanish Secretary of State for the European Union, suggested it would be legitimate for the EU to sign association agreements with Colombia and Peru if progress is not made in negotiations with CAN, including Ecuador and Bolivia. Mr Sanahuja meanwhile argued that, in order to be seen as a credible actor on the international stage, Europe should continue supporting the processes of Latin American integration as a prerequisite to inter-regionalism.
Taking a more comparative standpoint, FRIDE researcher Susanne Gratius underlined that despite the ongoing deficits, the lack of inter-state conflicts demonstrates that Latin America is still the region where democracy and integration have worked best as formulas for peace.
FRIDE Director General Pierre Schori then added that political dialogue should be an instrument to reduce poverty and inequality first and foremost, and that Latin America remained the most unjust region of the world. Recalling the words of OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, “poverty is of colour and is female”, and that 40 percent of the population of Latin America lives in poverty and 20 percent in extreme poverty, Mr Schori said it was positive that the continent’s leaders included a female president (Chile), a union leader (Brazil) and a member of the indigenous community (Bolivia).
He went on to argue that greater social cohesion was a necessary condition for peace, democracy and development, however. Quoting Sergio Bitar, who said that Latin America “cannot be Nordic in social issues and African in taxation”, he identified the low levels of state fundraising as a principal challenge. In his judgment, social inequality was intrinsically linked to the high levels of violence that make Latin America the most dangerous part of the world.
The major challenges facing Latin America, he argued, were poverty, violence and weak democracies. He said it would be vital to make good use of the economic boom in order to avert a political bang. In closing, Mr Schori reemphasised some of the recommendations from the book, including the idea of creating a centre for the prevention of inter-regional conflicts and a European-Latin America initiative for Haiti.