Renewed interest in Latin America: an opportunity to strengthen Spain’s influence within the EU
Latin America has always been an important priority in Spain’s foreign policy. However Spain has so far been unable to apply this importance to the wider European agenda. The cooperation policy is a perfect example: While Latin America has been the main beneficiary of Spanish development aid, Spain channels most of its aid through the European Union. However, the national focus on Latin America is not reflected in the Community’s cooperation policy, which has prioritized EU neighbors and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is mainly because Spain has so far been unsuccessful in demonstrating just how strategically important Latin America is to the rest of its European partners.
Some might argue that other Member States have alternative geographic priorities that preclude bringing Latin America to the center of the agenda. Another explanation may lie in Spain’s influence in Europe, which has been inconsistent, and even declining since the 2000s. This is coupled with the absence of a strategic and long-term vision of Spain’s priorities within the EU that goes beyond an enthusiastic and uncritical Europeanism. Consequently, Spain has taken on the mantle of policy taker, i.e., taking advantage of the benefits of integration, rather than policy maker, or influential shaper as regards the European agenda.
Spanish focus on Latin America is not reflected in the Community’s cooperation policy. This is mainly because Spain has so far been unsuccessful in demonstrating just how strategically important Latin America is to the rest of its European partners
However, at this time of particular complexity in the European and international landscape, Latin America may find its place on the European agenda and Spain may be able to consolidate a greater presence and influence within European institutions.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine revealed that the common position shared by the United States, the EU and the United Kingdom is incompatible with the position of other major powers, such as Turkey, India and China. In this regard, Western partners face the challenge of seeking political support in condemning Russian aggression. The war has also highlighted the need for the EU to diversify its partners and reduce dependencies in strategic sectors such as energy.
In this context, Latin America is positioned to become an attractive partner. For starters, Europe and Latin America share strong historical, cultural and political ties. In addition, working with Latin America is key to achieving global public goals, such as the fight against climate change or global health. Latin America has the potential to be an ally in reducing vulnerabilities and diversifying dependencies in strategic sectors, advancing the objectives within the framework of the green and digital agendas, and opening up opportunities in terms of trade and investment. In any case, the EU will have to contend with the challenge of competing with other players that also have interests in the region. The EU must therefore be prepared not only to move unilaterally closer to Latin America, but also to make the other side see the benefits of closer relations. This undoubtedly involves making tangible progress on concrete issues such as the trade agreement with Mercosur.
This is a particularly complicated challenge given the current landscape. Europe is shifting its center of gravity towards the East amidst the backdrop of international uncertainty and volatility
In recent years, Spain has demonstrated its leadership and ambition within the European Union reversing a decades long trend of weak influence. Now Spain must prove that it is capable of consolidating its role as a leader. This is a particularly complicated challenge given the current landscape. Europe is shifting its center of gravity towards the East amidst the backdrop of international uncertainty and volatility. This context is forcing the EU to redefine its priorities and policies, adopting a more proactive and strategic stance.
Spain clearly holds a privileged position as a bridge between Latin America and Europe, enabling it to strengthen its position and influence in the European system. Spain has previous help four rotating Presidencies of the Council, with Latin America a key priority. The upcoming Spanish Presidency during the second half of 2023 may prove to be the perfect opportunity to renew European interest in Latin America, thus strengthening Spain’s voice within the EU.