More than a decade ago, the EU-LAC Summits were launched with the goal of building a strategic partnership between Europe and Latin America. At that time it was argued that this union was based on the existence of a common matrix, Western civilization, and on sharing a set of values, starting with citizenship and representative democracy.
Since then many things have changed, both in Europe and Latin America. After the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and the emergence of the “Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America” (ALBA) Latin America has become a fragmented region. Although the region has three members of the G-20 (Argentina, Brazil and Mexico), they have been unable to find a common position amongst themselves, much less among the whole of Latin America.
Meanwhile, the EU has struggled with its enlargement and the implementation process of the Lisbon Treaty. It currently confronts a profound leadership crisis and a resurgence of nationalist impulses. Germany’s stubborn refusal to extend the faculties of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the issuance of Eurobonds is a clear example of these extremes.
In these circumstances it is difficult to find supporters capable of promoting this bi-regional strategic partnership. Nevertheless, Latin America provides a great opportunity to the EU, especially because their markets can be a stimulus for European exports. Strengthening the bi-regional relationship would be positive and beneficial to both parties.
The first step should be to clarify what expect both regions from each other. What does EU want from Latin America? And what does Latin America want from the EU? If these questions are not clarified, the whole Euro-Latin American project will remain at the level of rhetoric and there will be no concrete progress in any direction.
Things are complicated even more by the crisis in Europe that threatens the euro versus the better economic performance of Latin America. The countries of the region, especially South America, thanks to its commodity exports and the demand from Asia’s markets (above all China), are going through a boom situation unthinkable ten years ago when an economic crisis struck them.
But Latin America will also continue to depend on Europe. Latin American sells many consumer goods with production links to Europe and it is easier to integrate supply chains and transfer technology and knowledge through the Atlantic than the Pacific.
It is not an easy task given the fragmentation of Latin America and the nationalist impulses of some European countries. But the next EU-LAC Summit in Chile could be a great opportunity for governments of this interregional association to establish the basis for an agreement between equals, bi-directional and with clear goals.
Carlos Malamud is Senior Analyst for Latin America at the Elcano Royal Institute and Professor of Latin American History at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED) in Madrid.