Europe’s single approach to Latin America and the Caribbean

For decades Europe has sought to establish an overarching policy relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean. It has done so through dialogue, policy papers, initiatives and summits. For the most part the overall approach has changed very little. It has revolved around a desire to consolidate influence, giving the sometimes unfortunate impression that the construct of a single Latin America and the Caribbean relationship exists because Europe wants a continuing geo-political role in the Americas.

2009091004viewlogoIrrespective, the appearance of a new policy paper from the European Commission (EC) seeking to further deepen the single approach ought to raise questions in Latin America, the Caribbean and in Europe. In particular, the document seems inattentive to the fact that the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean are rapidly diversifying their international relations; Brazil is a G20 nation and an emerging global power; there are significant ideological divisions in the hemisphere over development objectives; and sub-regional economic integration has stubbornly failed to move forward for political and/or economic reasons.

Some European academics also find questionable the idea of a single approach by a Europe of twenty-seven nations that have other security and economic preoccupations, prefer to improve their own bilateral and sub-regional trade relations within the hemisphere and no longer feel in competition with a US that has significantly less interest and influence in the hemisphere than was the case in the past.

The wish by the EC for an overarching policy is also complicated by an approach that brings Latin America and the Caribbean policy together. Given the vast differences in size, culture and levels of development it is hard to see much more than administrative utility for the EC in a framework that tries to find common approaches that encompass both the presence of Brazil in Mercosur or Haiti within Caricom.

On September 30 the EC published a new communication (policy paper) on Latin America that seeks to renew Europe’s single approach. The ten page document, which will be presented to the twenty-seven member states and the European Parliament for debate, looks at how to update rather than restructure or manage the diversity that now exists in Europe’s relationships with Latin America.

Speaking at the document’s launch, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Europe’s Commissioner for External Relations, noted that the communication attempted to take into account new challenges such as the economic and financial crisis, climate change, crime, energy security and migration. It proposes, she said, increasing the level of dialogue, encouraging regional integration, and pursuing trade negotiations that are underway with Central America, some Andean nations and with Mercosur. 

The document also proposes the establishment of a Euro 100m Latin America Invest-ment Facility for infrastructure in the form of grants to leverage other financing in the fields of energy, transport and the environment. It suggests a more targeted approach to development assistance by concentrating on alleviating poverty in the poorest countries and proposes making operational a Latin American and Caribbean Foundation, a mechanism to bring together all interested parties between summits.

It does contain one particularly interesting paragraph in relation to Cuba. This suggests that after years of stagnation in Europe’s relationship that the high level dialogue that was recently established and the creation of programmes of development co-operation “could eventually create the conditions for a contractual framework for EU-Cuba relations.” In plain English this means that the European Commission at least may consider proposing the negotiation of some form of agreement with Cuba, the only nation in the Latin American/Caribbean region that has no formal arrangements with Europe despite being an ACP state and having previously hoped to be a signatory to the Cotonou Convention.

Earlier this year Caricom review-ed the outcome of the last EU-LAC summit held in Peru in 2008. At a meeting held in Caracas, a number of positive outcomes were noted but it was clear that for the Caribbean, for future summits to have value a number of important issues will have to be addressed.

For the region it will be vital to hold a separate EU-Cariforum summit in the margins of the broader meeting in order that its concerns as a grouping of small states can be heard by the EU’s political leadership. It was felt that there needed to be a co-ordinatory mechanism put in place to ensure that Caribbean concerns are considered by larger states at the EU-LAC meeting itself. The Caribbean also wants more note to be taken by Europe of the inter-hemispheric mechanisms that have come into being including the Rio Group, SELA as well as new vehicles for dialogue with Europe including the institutions of the Economic Partnership Agreement.

Put another way, Europe has so far not focused politically on the issues that matter to the region: that is to say, the motivation behind closer economic relationships with Brazil, Venezuela and other nations, why the structure of EU-LAC summits marginalises Caribbean interests, how the grouping might address issues of smallness and vulnerability, or how changes in European trade policy have created hard to heal divisions between some Latin and Caribbean nations.

 next EU-LAC summit will take place in Madrid on May 18, 2010 under the Spanish presidency. Spain has already made clear that it places an importance on full Caribbean involvement and is working towards that goal. It is looking more generally for a qualitative leap in Europe’s overall and sub-regional relationships. It wants to move past declarations into concrete action with an action plan that “signals routes of joint action for the future” and find ways to create a new European model that more closely reflects its own dialogue in the Americas.

This is welcome if sensitively delivered, encourages a more thoughtful approach and recognises that an ever more disparate Latin America and the Caribbean now see Europe as a part of a diversified and balanced set of international relationships.

Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org

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