A stronger partnership with Latin America
At the fourth EU-Latin America/Caribbean Summit, which was held in Vienna in May 2006, the Commission paved the way to revitalising its partnership with Latin America. By identifying the new challenges currently testing the strength of ties with Latin America, the Commission proposes a new European strategy in this regard. Specifically, it puts forward possible courses of action as regards political dialogue, trade and investment, stability and prosperity, cooperation and mutual understanding
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 8 December 2005 - A stronger partnership between the European Union and Latin America [COM(2005) 636 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
A strategy to strengthen the partnership between the European Union and Latin America seems to have become necessary in the light of changes in the two regions since the last general policy communication (1995).
Such a strengthened partnership is the EU's way of reaffirming its interest in and support for Latin America, with whom its shares the common values of human rights, democracy and multilateralism. In this regard, international organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) already serve as prime frameworks reflecting these values. The EU can share its experience with Latin America to help the region to deal with the changes it has faced. It can also draw on its experience to help strengthen stability and security.
At the heart of this strategy (the detailed version of which is annexed to the Communication) is the Commission's intention to reinforce its involvement in several fields, from the fight against social inequality to establishing an economy mindful of sustainable development.
The Commission recommends an approach whereby each Latin American party is an interlocutor as well as a partner. Among these parties, particular emphasis is placed on subregions such as Mercosur, the Andean Community and Central America. Relations with each country should be further tailored to take into account their particular circumstances. Such relations are organised along the lines of a distinction between the different countries in terms not just of their gross domestic product (GDP) but also of the role they play on the international stage (e.g. Brazil and Mexico).
The idea of a bi-regional strategic partnership dates back to the first EU-Latin America / Caribbean Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1999. The idea has since become a reality in the form of strong relations in political, economic and cultural issues.
With this in mind, the Commission has set itself the following more or less long-term objectives:
- establishing a network of association agreements (including free trade agreements), with the main aim of contributing to the integration of the region;
- establishing genuine political dialogue to bolster the influence of both regions on the international scene;
- developing effective sectoral dialogue with a view to reducing social inequality and promoting sustainable development;
- reinforcing the framework designed to help Latin American countries attract more European investment, thereby contributing to economic development;
- tailoring aid and cooperation to the needs of the countries involved;
- increasing mutual understanding through education and culture.
Strategy to revitalise the partnership
The strategy to revitalise the partnership takes into account the new political, social and economic realities of both partners, given the changes that they have experienced since 1995. This enables priority courses of action to be determined.
It is essential to step up and focus political dialogue. Both partners advocate multilateralism in their relations, but need to be more visible both in the regions themselves and on the international stage. Political dialogue of this kind will enable them to conduct an efficient partnership, by giving a true picture of their respective strengths.
Political dialogue should be confined to a certain number of issues, particularly issues of common interest, such as UN reform, peace-keeping, crisis prevention or crisis situations in certain countries of the region.
It is necessary to foster a climate which is favourable to trade and investment between the two regions in order to improve market access and increase trade. The EU is the largest foreign investor in Latin America. However, despite significant trade and investment flows, the two regions' growth potential should be better utilised.
In order to create such a climate, it is necessary to strengthen the multilateral framework provided by the WTO, which is based on the recognition of common rules. It is also necessary for the EU to negotiate association agreements with each country and free trade agreements with regions that are sufficiently integrated (such as Mercosur), and to tap the potential of existing association agreements with Mexico and Chile.
Businesses in both regions are directly involved. Latin American businesses may enjoy easier access to Europe's markets, particularly by means of the Generalised System of Preferences. The onus is placed on regional integration in Latin America, which would enable it to stand up to European competition. Trade partners must also discuss how best to eliminate trade barriers.
For their part, European businesses should enjoy favourable legal conditions in Latin America. This will be achieved by stepping up the regulatory dialogue for the adoption of common rules and standards and strengthening macro-economic dialogue as a way to stimulate growth and investment in a context of macro-economic stability. The role of Europe's cutting-edge sectors must be particularly strongly promoted as a way to contribute to the region's development.
The EU wishes to support the region's effort to ensure stability and prosperity, particularly as regards healthy democratic governance. Reducing social inequality (particularly poverty and exclusion), combating illegal drug trafficking and organised crime are tough challenges; such phenomena weaken democracy and split societies. Society itself should be more closely linked to democratic governance; environmental protection should also always be a consideration, given Latin America's vast biodiversity.
Social cohesion should be factored into any action undertaken as part of the partnership with Latin America. Considered a point of common interest at the Guadalajara Summit (2004) and the Vienna Summit (2006), promoting social cohesion is seen as the way to fight poverty and inequality and to improve social integration through a combination of economic growth, higher employment, fairness and solidarity. Such cohesion should, in particular, be adapted to the specific circumstances of each country and subregion. In this regard, the Commission proposes to start bi-regional dialogue and to set a Social Cohesion Forum meeting every other year. It also intends closely to involve international organisations and private and state actors in the region. The Commission would like to see social cohesion become a priority issue of aid and development cooperation policy for the period 2007-2013.
Supporting democratic governance helps to modernise state government. The Commission proposes strengthening cooperation, increasing civil society's and citizens' participation in political life and setting up, on the basis of a proposal from the European Parliament, an EU-Latin America Transatlantic assembly.
Enhancing security is another area that the EU wishes to support. This concerns essentially the fight against drugs, which should be pursued on a basis of shared responsibility, and the fight against crime (including money laundering, corruption, etc.); these efforts should focus on transparency through good financial, fiscal and legal governance.
The EU also considers regional and subregional integration to be very important and actively supports it, e.g. through association and free trade agreements. Further regional integration should stimulate economic growth and investment. It depends on deeper territorial integration owing to the geographical configuration of the region; better infrastructure and interconnectivity networks in sectors such as transport, water and energy need to be developed. With the help of loans from the European Investment Bank, a newly-created Latin American facility should help develop and strengthen such networks.
Economic sustainable development essentially depends on sound natural resource management in order to ensure long-term prosperity for the region. The Commission therefore proposes enhancing cooperation and discussion on the environmental aspects of sustainable development, focusing specifically on climate change, energy, water, biodiversity and forests. It suggests that Environment Ministers should meet before each EU-LAC Summit and that discussion of such issues should be further encouraged within the UN.
Given the links between the two regions, they are well placed to engage in political dialogue on conflict prevention and crisis management.
With a view to improving development cooperation and mutual understanding between the EU and Latin America, the Commission puts forward several proposals which aim to:
- focus on priority themes such as social cohesion and regional integration and to concentrate 2007-2013 aid and cooperation on specific sectors, the main objective being to combat poverty; furthermore, greater coordination of European aid should be achieved thanks to European consensus on development policy;
- acknowledge the specific role of certain actors in the region, such as Brazil and Mexico, by setting up political dialogue and further tapping the potential of association agreements;
- build an EU-LAC common area of higher education, particularly via the development of university exchanges under the Alßan, Alfa and Erasmus mundus programmes;
- improve communication and the visibility of both regions in order to foster mutual understanding, particularly as regards cultural cooperation; organising a Europe Week in all Latin American countries could go some way to achieving this.