UNO July 2023

European Union-Latin America: a new opportunity?

Relations between the European Union and Latin America have traditionally been characterized by history, language, religion, and political, social and economic values. There are many reasons for our excellent relations. However, for decades we have struggled to build a solid, long-lasting, mutually beneficial and trusting relationship, but without success. It’s reasonable to ask why we have failed to achieve this –that is a very relevant question.

We have been unable to build long-term commercial, cultural or thematic relations. History shows that this has always been the result of specific situations in both Europe and Latin America. When the European Union is not confronted with conflicts or immediate regional challenges, its connections with Latin America tend to strengthen. EU-LA relations flourish whenever like-minded governments are in power in Latin America or when visits by foreign affairs officials from a Latin American country, like Federica Mogherini in the past and now Josep Borrell, invigorate discussions on revitalizing our relations. 

Latin America is facing more challenges today compared to previous decades, further exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. Issues such as poverty, inequality, and a significant digital divide pose significant hurdles to progress. The fact that less than 50 % of the population has access to broadband in this digital age is a significant handicap. A lack of cohesive leadership among regional presidents impedes collective efforts to address these problems and engage in fruitful dialogues with other regions.

Throughout history, Latin America has consistently failed to come together to work in a cohesive and systematic way that goes beyond short-term goals. We have created mechanisms for dialogues that have yet to be convened

Throughout history, Latin America has consistently failed to come together to work in a cohesive and systematic way that goes beyond short-term goals. We have created mechanisms for dialogues that have yet to be convened, yet they have failed to listen to each other. Differences in political and economic models have posed challenges, but efforts were made in recent years to convene talks and promote inclusive discussions. In recent years, however, instead of attending Summits, Latin American Presidents simply create dialogue mechanisms that exclude anyone who does not share their political position, for example Prosur, which was created in 2019. 

Undoubtedly, the situation in Venezuela has had a significant impact on regional integration and dialogue mechanisms. It has contributed to the erosion of forums such as the OAS, CELAC, and Unasur, which were once important platforms for political discussion and diplomacy. The Venezuelan regime is still in place today, and even recognized by almost the entire region –yet Latin American integration remains hindered. As a result, the EU-CELAC dialogue and the Summit of the Americas, which served as spaces for dialogue with the United States and Canada, have lost momentum and effectiveness.

With the return of Lula to Brazil, it would seem that integration in the region is back on track. We can only hope that they do not relapse into past mistakes of ideologizing dialogue. Hopefully, steps towards integration will continue. 

Latin America has undoubtedly expected more from the European Union than it feels it has received. In turn, the EU feels that Latin America is neither progressing as expected, nor behaving with the democratic values it would like to see. In addition, there is little interest in the region, except by Spain and Portugal. 

The European Union has failed to adopt a long-term vision that focuses on specific crises in the region. We must nevertheless move forward, maintaining an ideologically neutral dialogue that will lead to growth and leave Latin America in better condition. Let’s not forget that we are 700 million people, with a very young population and great natural resource wealth. However, there is still a long way to go. Not only should the EU continue to be the largest direct investor, but new programs should focus on current problems and support the region in its emergence from historical disadvantages. 

We continue to face global challenges, including the preservation of multilateralism. The two regions are undoubtedly great advocates of multilateralism. The fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals, green energy, new sources of clean energy, transnational drug trafficking crimes, migration, etc., are all issues that require global, concerted efforts.

It is crucial that the European Union understands the diversity of Latin America and that expecting a unified response is unrealistic. The EU simply must understand the setbacks and, why not say it, the inconsistencies in which it lives, without paralyzing the relationship with every situation that arises.

The European Union’s recent commitment to strengthen ties with the region is promising, and Spain’s upcoming Presidency of the Council in the second half of 2023 presents a favorable opportunity to advance this agenda. My experience as Colombian Foreign Minister during the peace process gives me faith because I lived it, that we can work together with the EU, achieving great things. 

In these challenging times, I may seem optimistic, but I believe there is an opportunity for Latin America to contribute substantially to address global issues, including those that are critical for Europe’s future. For example, Latin America is a region rich in raw materials (lithium, cobalt, copper) that are indispensable for a sustainable energy transition. In addition to its immense renewable energy generation capacity, the region also holds large areas of land with the potential for agricultural development necessary to ensure global food security, as well as forests that are crucial for CO2 capture in the fight against global warming. The potential of this wealth presents an opportunity for collaboration between Latin America and Europe, working hand in hand to address these challenges.

María Ángela Holguín
Former Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs
She is a political scientist with specializations in Public Administration and Administrative Institutions from the Universidad de los Andes and in Diplomacy and Strategy from the Center for Diplomatic and Strategic Studies (CEDS) in Paris. She was Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations and Ambassador of Colombia to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Secretary General of the Ministry and First Secretary of the Embassy in Paris. She was also private secretary to the Attorney General and Representative of the Development Bank of Latin America- CAF in Argentina. She is currently a member of the board of directors of several companies.

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