After the EU-CILAC Summit: Avoiding Another Lost Decade

As High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union, it has been my priority to give renewed political shape to the sense of community that unites Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). A feeling caused by the movement of millions of people from one side of the Atlantic to the other, united by a common history, languages ​​and cultures. And for that, EU-CELAC summit third last [Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños]which brought together in Brussels the leaders of 60 countries, nearly a third of the members of the United Nations, 14% of the world’s population and 21% of GDP, has relaunched our strategic partnership as essential allies.

This is the basic top It was a great diplomatic move promoted with the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. We have overcome a long period of disagreement since the last summit held eight years ago. Almost a decade we can’t lose again. The world has changed dramatically since then, with the rise of China, the devastating global effects of the pandemic, and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. We now have a lot of work to do to advance a common, mutually beneficial agenda for both regions.

Neither in the European Union nor in Latin America and the Caribbean do we want to return to the Cold War or to bloc politics. On the contrary, we want to promote a pluralistic vision of the international community based on norms, dialogue, cooperation and the peaceful resolution of disputes. This vision is in danger, and in the world of giants, each of us cannot defend it alone. Let us not forget that, unlike investment, trade or diplomacy, the strongest bridges we can build between the European Union and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are those that promote political rights and freedoms.

Despite the pandemic, I have been to Latin America and the Caribbean six times and clearly understand how stalemate our centuries-old relationship has run out. She recognized the resentment of the neglect attributed to Europe in its approach to Latin America and the Caribbean. And this is despite the fact that European companies continue to be the largest investors in the region, with direct investments of nearly €700,000m at the end of 2021, more than those invested by the EU in China, Russia, Japan and India combined. However, thanks to its size, China has become the number one trading partner for almost all Latin American and Caribbean countries, and at the same time, our projects for Partnership and Trade Agreements have been stalled or waiting for a long time for urgent updates. Added to this predicament is the feeling that although we share values ​​and a worldview, our priorities do not always align.

For this reason, the summit decided to update our relationship to adapt it to major global challenges. With greater regularity in our high-level political dialogues, regular summits every two years, an example of permanent coordination, a bi-regional road map, with concrete actions until the 2025 meeting in Colombia.

At this summit, we have presented, together with the member states of the European Union, an investment agenda that adds up European contributions 45,000 million euros Until 2027 in renewable energies, digital transformation, pharmaceutical innovation, and strengthening health systems. We have also signed a Digital Alliance with 20 countries in the region to champion human-centered digital transformation together, which is especially important for a region facing high levels of inequality and stagnant productivity.

The goal of this investment effort is to modernize and strengthen ties, not dependencies. LAC wants to capitalize on new transformations to industrialize key sectors and add value to its huge potential in biodiversity, renewable energy, agricultural production and strategic raw materials. It wants to grow, but with greater equality and sustainability, placing people at the center of environmental and digital transformation, but also of social transformation. Our relationship should be primarily political and cannot be reduced or reduced to a list of investments, but Europe can contribute technological capabilities and also needs alliances with reliable partners to diversify its supply chains.

For Europeans, it is urgent that they understand that we must commit ourselves not only to our problems, but to those of our partners. The LAC asks us to broaden our agenda to find solutions to key issues that fall under the rubric of global justice: debt relief, climate finance, green bonds and attracting private investment, realigning value chains on a global scale (avoiding extractive policies), new trade agreements, taxation on a global scale, and the common fight against drugs and organized crime, among others. It also means a willingness to reform the multilateral system and international financial institutions to make them more fair and representative. In short, the region demands its space and influence at the main decision-making tables in the world.

The summit did not represent substantial progress in the negotiations with Mercosur, but it was not expected to be so. The negotiations, which officially concluded in 2019 with an “agreement in principle,” continue to reach a final agreement that meets the expectations of both parties.

Our relationship must contribute to building a new decarbonized social prosperity, in the words of the President of Colombia, making the defense of the planet compatible with material progress and social justice. We must also overcome our geopolitical differences. The vast majority of LAC members condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations. But the relative importance of this war of aggression in the array of world problems is not seen in the same way. The last hours of discussion of the final statement well reflected this tension between closed European unity in the face of an existential question and the various nuances within Latin America and the Caribbean. Nicaragua ended up being excluded, not Cuba or Venezuela The final wording, which clearly refers to the war “against” Ukraine, not “in” Ukraine.

My conclusion from the Summit is that defending the principles of the UN Charter and the rules-based international order in a time of authoritarian tendencies and populist dynamics requires more than ever a strong geopolitical and geo-economic partnership between the European Union and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. We wouldn’t be able to do it alone and we couldn’t afford to lose another decade.

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