A new International Organization has been created on 25 October, the European Union - Latin America and the Caribbean (EU-LAC) Foundation. Its constitutive agreement has been signed during the last EU-LAC summit held on Santo Domingo on 25-26 October. This Strategic Partnership, as defined by the Foundation itself, “seeks to promote options for a socio-economic model where knowledge transfer, education and sustainable development bring countries and regions closer together while reducing poverty levels and social exclusion, creating opportunities for all (...) In short, the bi-regional partnership is working to create a new environment where societies are brought closer together and work towards a common goal.”
But is it a one-way partnership, in the sense that the main benefits go to Latin America, the “weakest” party? As we may think, a strategic partnership is inserted in a broader context, in which, for example, there is a bigger presence of China in the economies of Latin America, as well as a wave for bilateral trade agreements, just to mention some if its economic components. Wouldn’t it be better, that EU and some Latin American countries concentrate their efforts in some more concretes partnerships, as the long-lasting negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement between EU and MERCOSUR?
For the last question, we may consider how is Latin American regionalism: pulverized initiatives with different preferences and inconstant efforts to reach common interests and identities. In the last years, there was an emergence of diverse regionalist groups, as ALBA led by Venezuela with some other countries governed by populist left parties in a direct aversion for coping with the USA; UNASUR and CELAC with a stronger leadership of Brazil, the biggest economy in the region, but at the same time with a lack of clear common interests and identities. However, initiatives with more specific interests, as is the MERCOSUR, also face some political constraints. For example, even the free tax dispositions are violated by its Member States, as was the case of Argentina in the last years.
Another current phenomenon to be added in the context of Latin America is that the wave of new bilateral and plurilateral agreements are sought with partners all over the world, leaving in second plan the initiatives for a greater integration among the Latin American countries. Today, the Pacific Alliance is the most promising plurilateral agreement involving some of the countries.
So, without a cohesive region, a new EU-LAC Organization not restricted to economic matters, but with a broader perspective of cooperation, may favor building a sense of unity in Latin America that still seeks a desired identity or at least points of convergence among its countries. This can promote a more sustainable and “authentic” development and the European Union experience of creating an identity, as well as institutions that can represent its citizens and promote their direct participation are crucial for a region that still needs to learn how to give voice to its citizens and look for solutions that are of their interest.
The Foundation can be an active actor in such challenge through its activities: seminars, conferences and publications; events related to the topics addressed in CELAC-EU Summits; bi-regional programmes and exchanges, studies and new contact opportunities.
In sum, this is also a Strategic Partnership for the European Union in the sense that the Union may have an active role in sharing experiences that can contribute for dialogue and convergence of interests that may facilitate negotiations over MERCOSUR clauses or the defense of democracy in Venezuela, just to give some examples. This is not restricted to diplomacy, as it involves the direct participation of civil society, think tanks, etc, which may lead to closer relations and a trans-Atlantic regionalism.