“Ibero-Americans and Europeans bathe in the same sea. We are, therefore, neighbors in the distance”. Besides our geographical location, we share the same DNA, history and a great common legacy. Several centuries of history, of human relationships, of language, of culture and heritage poured into each other, mean that the very identity and raison d’être of both cannot be understood without naming each other. Despite this, we cannot afford to live forever in the past. Europe and Latin America need to strengthen their political and trade relations, to protect their cultural ties and build up joint development in the present to ensure a prosperous future.
The European Union established relations with the Ibero-American region in the early 1960s and since then has sought to improve connections and strengthen ties. Over the last fifty years, the relationship between the two continents has developed considerably and the willingness of both parties to strengthen their cooperation has been reiterated on several occasions. To such an extent that the Union itself is one of the most important partners, both economically and politically, for the Latin American region as a whole. It is, therefore, the region’s main donor, being the first foreign investor and the second trading partner up to now – a position overtaken by China, according to the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell.
In each of the meetings and in the Ibero-American and European Union Summits held in recent years, three fundamental priorities have stood out as the objectives to be achieved for the Latin American region: integration into the world economy through trade development, the fight against poverty and social inequalities, and lastly but vitally important, the consolidation of the rule of law.
With regard to the first of these objectives, Latin America has understood that the road to full development and economic growth lies through regional and subregional integration, while strengthening ties with Europe to broaden the scope of its progress. In economic terms, this means that the region will be able to develop its potential more effectively and will facilitate the increased presence of Latin American countries in international markets.
To this end, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru joined forces in 2011 to present the Pacific Alliance with the purpose of deepening integration among their economies and defining joint trade actions to achieve greater competitiveness, growth and development. In addition, they established a basic pillar “to progressively advance towards the goal of achieving the free circulation of goods, services and capital”. This first integration project in the region should make us proud that the European Union is the first successful historical project to do so and to provide an effective model for the rest of the continents. The alliance continues to progress; so much so that the recent president-elect of the Republic of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, in one of his first official visits, met the President of Colombia, Iván Duque, to discuss his entry into the alliance.
The fight against poverty and social inequalities is also one of the clear and central objectives. While poverty and inequality have historically been a structural problem for Latinos, now with the health crisis caused by COVID-19, Latin America and the Caribbean have been the most affected region to unprecedented extremes. Europe’s international vocation for peace and prosperity must continue not only in the improvement of the post-covid situation, but also in the commitment to improve education, access to health systems and increase productivity, among others.
Socioeconomic indicators are aggravated by the extreme poverty suffered by the population in countries such as Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua due to the totalitarian regimes such as Maduro’s narco-dictatorship where citizens have no access to basic services neither access to drinking water and where images of long lines of people waiting for food have gone around the world. In the Venezuelan case, the previously prosperous country now has extreme levels of poverty, refugees and lack of human and political freedom.
That is why there was no hesitation in making the defense of the rule of law the third indisputable objective on which to work on. The rule of law is at the core of the fundamental values of the Union, and it is not in vain that it is the prerequisite for the protection of other fundamental values such as the defense of fundamental rights and democracy. And its ultimate guarantee is judicial independence and transparency through fully free elections.
Europe must be firm in condemning governments that try to perpetuate themselves in power by undermining the independence of judges or other public institutions and that have immersed the population into poverty and deprived them of their most basic fundamental rights. A clear example of this was this very January when the European Parliament approved in plenary that the Union “recognizes neither the legitimacy nor the legality of the National Assembly established on January 5th, 2021”, by which they maintain the recognition of Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim President of Venezuela and by which they extended sanctions to the Maduro regime.
While it is true that an important part of the country is immersed in serious economic, social and political crises, there are other countries that reflect the change that society itself is asking for and show that the winds are beginning to blow in another direction. Ecuador is facing a change of course and other countries such as Chile and Uruguay are committed to opening up the region and defending freedom.
It is not only Europe that has much to contribute to Latin America; Latin America and the Caribbean have many natural resources that Europe lacks. It is a region with a lot of potential to develop both in terms of economics and in terms of searching for new ways of obtaining energy. We should look there, because of its hours of natural light, its resources and variety of climates are a perfect place for it. Europe also receives a great variety of food imports, among others. It is also important to mention its geographic and cultural diversity, since they are an important source of wealth at many levels and the academic compromises at the student and research levels continue to increase.
While Europe wants a strong and prosperous Latin American partner with which to gain more relevance in international markets and become more important global actors, the Union must first help Latin America to strengthen itself internally by reducing the poverty line, strengthening the rule of law and deepening its integration and cohesion in the region in order to have a more influential and decisive ally at the global level. Moreover, within the European plurality, there are countries such as Spain and Portugal that have a comparative advantage and an added value with respect to Eastern European countries after centuries of shared history, language and culture. Cooperation should not only be encouraged at the level of the Union, but the member states themselves should strengthen their links with other countries in the region through bilaterals agreements.
Therefore, let’s keep our wills close, but our actions even more narrowed; there is much that is shared already but also a lot to be done.
J. M. García-Margallo. Latin America, Spain and Europe. 2015. UNO Magazine.
The EU-Latin America Strategic Partnership: current situation and future paths. DIRECTORATE GENERAL FOR FOREIGN
THEMATIC DEPARTMENT. European Parliament. 2017. European Union.
Agency. Borrell warns that China is displacing the EU in Latin America. 2020. La Vanguardia. Available at: https://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20201217/6128182/borrell-avisa-china-esta-desplazando-ue-latinoamerica.html
Victoria Dannemann. Latin America: X-ray of inequality. 2021. Available at: https://www.dw.com/es/am%C3%A9rica-latina-radiograf%C3%ADa-de-la-desigualdad/a-56306983
Latin America is the developing region most affected by the pandemic in the world. UN News. 2021. Available at: https://news.un.org/es/story/2021/03/1489112
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)