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EU-Latin America: Doubts arise over May summit

IPS | 3 April 2006

Doubts Arise Over May Summit

Ramesh Jaura

VIENNA, Apr 3 (IPS) - Civil society organisations are sceptical about the outcome of the conference of 58 heads of government and state from Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean next month in Vienna.

But the European Commission, the executive arm of the 25-nation European Union (EU), is optimistic that the May 12 summit in the Austrian capital would give fresh impulses to relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.

’’The Commission proposes to give a fresh impetus to the partnership which currently faces a number of challenges,’’ says an official EU document titled ’A stronger partnership between the European Union and Latin America - Communication from the Commission to the (European) Council and the European Parliament’.

The European Council, comprising heads of government and state, has welcomed the Commission’s note, and reaffirmed ’’the importance of the EU’s strategic partnership with Latin America.’’ The Commission said it was ’’determined to further strengthen the alliance in the mutual interest of both regions."

The Council underlined the EU’s objective ’’to continue to cooperate closely with Latin America to promote our common values and interests, and to contribute jointly to peace and security, protection and promotion of human rights and the strengthening of citizens’ participation and democracy.’’

The Council said in a statement that ’’social cohesion, sustainable development including the protection of the environment and the strengthening of international environmental governance within the UN system, and support to regional integration and stability are key objectives of our strategic partnership with the region.’’

The European Commission’s communication was circulated by the Austrian presidency at the Third European-Latin American-Caribbean Civil Society Forum Mar. 30 to Apr. 1 in Vienna. It formed the basis of discussion among participants.

The document serves as a basis for preparing the forthcoming EU-Latin America/Caribbean summit, fourth in a series that was launched 1999 in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and continued 2002 in Madrid (Spain) and 2004 in Guadalajara (Mexico).

The European Commission’s objective, says the document, is to ’’establish an enhanced partnership through a network of association agreements (including free trade agreements) involving all the countries of the region and liable to contribute to the integration of the region as a whole.’’

For the EU-Latin America/Caribbean Summit in Vienna, ’’the Commission considers that the topics covered by the Guadalajara declaration — social cohesion, regional integration, multilateralism — remain important, but need to be fleshed out further,’’ says the document.

The Commission wishes to use the Vienna summit to examine whether negotiations on the EU-Mercosur association agreement can now proceed towards their conclusion. Mercosur is a trading bloc comprising Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru as associate members. Venezuela and Bolivia are expected to become full members soon.

The forthcoming summit is also viewed as an opportunity to assess the progress of regional integration in the Andean Community and Central America, on the basis of the conclusions and recommendations of the working group which carried out the joint evaluation for the document.

But ’’it does not appear that this bi-regional encounter will be an occasion for a clear leap ahead in relations,’’ Christian Freres, associate researcher at the Instituto Complutense de Estudios Internacionales (ICEI) at Madrid University said at a Civil Society Forum meeting here Sunday.

’’The so-called strategic partnership will more likely still be as far off as it is today,’’ he said. ’’A relevant indicator of this might be seen in the association agreement (AA) decisions, key tools for any bi-regional association aiming at more than just a rhetoric-based relationship. To date an upcoming conclusion to the negotiations of an AA between the European Union and Mercosur does not appear to have been announced — barring a last-minute miracle.’’

EU association agreements are in effect only with two countries in the region, Chile and Mexico. ’’If the decision is taken at the summit to start AA negotiations with the Central American countries — a possible scenario, though negotiations with the Andean Community (CAN) have been postponed again — it is unclear what the effect would be on EU-Latin American relations," Freres said. "Venezuela’s entry to Mercosur also contributes another element of uncertainty to EU negotiations.’’

Unlike Europe, Latin America is characterised by a diversity of sub-regional groupings. Besides Mercosur is the Andean Community comprised of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

Then there is the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) which brings together Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. And Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama make up the Central American Integration System.

This might be a part of the reason, said Mariano Valderrama León, a senior consultant for SNV Netherlands Development Organisation in Peru, that ’’relations between the EU and Latin America are at a standstill and convergent interests have not been clearly identified.’’

After almost 15 years of regional institutionalised political relations, "relations between the two regions appear to have lost their initial drive and enthusiasm,’’ Valderrama León told the forum participants. ’’For this reason, a certain scepticism is inevitable with respect to the proposal formulated by the European Commission outlining a strategy for reinforcing the partnership between the EU and Latin America.’’

The strategy sticks mostly to general statements and does not establish real bases for building a strategic partnership in the new international scenario, León said.

León is also of the view that coordination is lacking between the cooperating European bodies. ’’There is an obvious lack of coherence between European Commission cooperation and that of the member countries. In some cases, there is even an evident want of interaction between the different programmes implemented by the same donor country.’’

Although information exchange mechanisms have been set up among European donors in some Latin American countries and sub-regions, little progress has been made in defining common strategies and programmes among them, even in some spheres where most cooperating bodies concentrate their attention, such as job creation, the fight against poverty, education, health, food assurance, environment or democracy.

’’This blocks the creation of synergies and more rational resource use, since each cooperator and/or agency sets its own seal to the cooperation,’’ León said.

’’Reinforcement of the strategic partnership between the EU and Latin America should be guided by realpolitik,’’ he noted, adding: ’’It would be wise to think of making relations more sincere, replacing statements of agreement with more pragmatic, concrete proposals.’’

The Civil Society Forum not only took stock of the existing situation and discussed a possible outcome of the forthcoming summit but also gave considerable thought to the role the civil society could play.

While a formal Vienna declaration is expected to be finalised in the next few days, there was broad consensus in discussions that civil society organisations must insist on improving participation channels in the Euro-Latin American political dialogue, and on greater institutionalisation.

The need for such institutionalisation is underscored by the fact that a separate meeting of the ’European Union, Latin America and Caribbean Organised Civil Society’ will take place Apr. 5-7 in Vienna. It will be addressed among others by Anne-Marie Sigmund, president of the European Economic and Social Committee and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU Commissioner for External Relations.

The Civil Society Forum was organised by ALOP (Asociación Latinoamericana de Organizaciones de Promoción), a network of Latin American non-governmental organisations. It was financially backed mainly by Dutch and German funding organisations such as Novib, ICCO, Hivos and EED.

 source: IPS