UNO July 2023

From natural partners to preferred partners

2023 will mark a turning point for EU-Latin America and the Caribbean relations. Against the current backdrop of a global geopolitical shift following the effects of the pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, we have all had to recalibrate our strategic compass. In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), after too many years of inertia, we have fortunately seen a bi-regional road map established and agreed on by the 33 members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and endorsed by the region’s foreign affairs ministers in October 2022 in Buenos Aires and will culminate in the EU-CELAC Summit of Heads of State and Government on July 17 and 18 in Brussels; the first of its kind since 2015. 

As part of these efforts, which we have dubbed “The Road to 2023,” the College of Commissioners adopted the new Joint Communication of the High Representative and the Commission to Parliament and the Council on June 7. This contains a proposal for a “new agenda for relations between the EU and Latin America and the Caribbean,” calling for a modern, stronger strategic partnership. The proposal aims to achieve this through strengthened political dialogue, the stimulation of trade and investment and the promotion of more sustainable, fair and interconnected societies as a result of Global Gateway investments.

Facing a climate emergency and an ongoing recovery from the devastating effects of the pandemic, the shock waves of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine are affecting everyone, food security, trade and energy supply are all jeopardized on a global scale. This is in addition to the desire to erode democratic values ​​and international order that is structured around rules and respect for the sovereignty of States. 

Our way of life is at risk, a way of life rooted in democracy, human rights, prosperity and well-being through sustainable and inclusive development

Looking at this threat as a simple rearrangement of the geopolitical balances between world powers does nothing to help the more than one billion citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean and the European Union become fully aware of what is at stake. Our way of life is at risk, a way of life rooted in democracy, human rights, prosperity and well-being through sustainable and inclusive development. Also at risk is the international order, enshrined in the UN Charter, founded on rules, on the peaceful resolution of conflicts and on respect for the sovereignty of States.

It is neither coincidental nor the first time in recent history that political disaffection impacting democratic societies on both sides of the Atlantic has coincided with economic crisis, social inequality and geopolitical uncertainty. It is not the first time that certain stakeholders dedicate considerable efforts and resources to promoting a narrative that is based on a crisis of democracy, presenting itself as an alternative model, meanwhile well aware that the universality of human rights and democratic values ​​is incompatible with totalitarian systems. 

The strengthening of EU-LAC relations is not only an issue pertaining to a strategically; it is also urgently needed if the international community is to successfully address the three major global challenges that will define the 21st century: climate change, the technological revolution and social inclusion. 

A fairer and more sustainable social agreement is critical for defending democracy and guaranteeing the prosperity of our citizens in the long term. This social agreement must be based on an inclusive ecological and digital transition, and social justice, leaving no one behind. 

We often say that both regions have similar values, traditions and cultures, and that they share many close ties. Although this is true, it is not sufficient

We often say that both regions have similar values, traditions and cultures, and that they share many close ties. Although this is true, it is not sufficient. In a world where an autocratic power is threatening the use of nuclear weapons, there is little room for romanticism or historical baggage. Our association is based on solid, complementary foundations — on competing interests, common challenges and shared opportunities. The EU is the third most important destination for Latin American exports and the biggest investor in the region. We have one of the densest networks of political and trade agreements in place with 31 countries in the region. Additionally, the EU is also the main contributor of development aid in the region. 

Latin America is a global environmental powerhouse, home to more than half of the planet’s biodiversity. The region is responsible for generating renewable energy that accounts for 33 % of the energy supply, compared to the average of just 13 % worldwide. Our partners want to harness new transitions to industrialize key sectors and add value to their productive capacity. LAC wants to grow, but more equitably and sustainably. The EU, in turn, has the technological and investment capacity but needs reliable partners to diversify its supply chains.

In a multipolar world, autonomy and influence are enhanced by the flexibility of strategic partnerships. Likewise, our partnership with Latin America and the Caribbean must be at more strategic and multilateral level and in terms of security. There is a universally accepted urgent need to reform the structure of our multilateral system and international security to overcome the outdated idea of “winners and losers” that came about 80 years ago. This would make the system more inclusive, fairer and democratic – thus becoming more effective.  It is not only a question of recognizing our natural predilection toward partners, but also the need to transform our relationship to become one another’s preferred partners. The EU and LAC are clearly set apart by other stakeholders to our shared values of social justice and a fair ecological and digital transition.

The major global challenges we are facing cannot be solved at any number of international Summits. Cooperation is required from all stakeholders in civil society and the private sector

The Summit is not final outcome, but rather a political milestone, bringing together the leaders of 60 states and the European Union in Brussels for frank and inclusive dialogue. This will lay the foundation for a renewed bi-regional strategic association that includes more frequent high-level political dialogue as well as the establishment of a permanent mechanism for coordination. 

It goes without saying that the major global challenges we are facing cannot be solved at any number of international Summits. Cooperation is required from governments and institutions, as well as from all stakeholders in civil society and the private sector. More than 230 million young people on both sides of the Atlantic have much to say about shaping the transatlantic community of citizens. A community that contributes to building a more just, sustainable and secure world. This is why we attach great importance to the forum of civil society, youth, local governments and the business roundtable (which will take place in Brussels in the days leading up to the Summit).

While there is great potential, political will and citizen mobilization is required to get it over the line. We are committed to a human-centered strategic partnership that will benefit citizens on both sides of the Atlantic.

Javier Niño Pérez
Deputy Management Director for the Americas in the European External Action Service (EEAS)
He holds a degree in Law from the University of Valladolid (Spain), a Master in European Law from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and a Master in European Studies from the College of Europe, and joined the European Commission in 1994. He was Head of the United States and Canada Division and Head of the Turkey Division at EEAS headquarters in Brussels. Previously, he was Head of EU Delegation to Haiti and Cuba. Since 2020, he is the Deputy Director for the Americas at the European External Action Service. He has been decorated with the National Orders of Burkina Faso and Haiti and with the Officer's Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic.

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