EU-US wedge thwarts efforts in Latin America
EU-US wedge thwarts efforts in Latin America
Landmark Amazon Summit Needs to Grapple with Crime as well as Climate
Landmark Amazon Summit Needs to Grapple with Crime as well as Climate
Op-Ed / Latin America & Caribbean 2 minutes

EU-US wedge thwarts efforts in Latin America

IN THE era of eastward enlargement and the fight against terrorism, Latin America does not figure highly on the foreign policy agendas of the EU and its member states. Not even Spain, with its historic connection and cultural affinity to Spanish-speaking Latin America, is a big player in the region today.

In addition, a number of issues, such as anti-narcotics policy in the Andes, have driven a wedge between Europe and the United States. This is making it more difficult for European policymakers to assert themselves with different approaches to grave socioeconomic, ecological and security problems in a region perceived by the US to constitute its sphere of influence.

The EU and its member states are not exactly absent in Latin America. German automobile manufacturers, for example, continue to have large interests in Brazil and Mexico. Spanish telecommunication companies have forcefully entered Latin American markets. The EU is the single largest humanitarian aid donor in war-torn Colombia, where it has set up a number of “peace laboratories”, designed to build and strengthen civil society to withstand pressure from the insurgents and paramilitaries, and to support conflict resolution practices at local level. Human rights have for a long time been a crucial element of EU policy in Latin America.

Large European countries, such as the UK, France and Germany, also run cultural institutions (such as the British Council, Maison Française and Goethe Institut) across the region, and the German political foundations are to be found in almost all Latin American countries.

However, the UK is the only European country today emphasizing the importance of actively supporting – with security advice and training – the Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe, engaged in a frontal war with the left-wing insurgencies.

Still, nowhere does this level of cooperation and aid even come close to that of the US. This basic and important fact is also reflected in the ongoing bilateral trade negotiations between the US government and the governments of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru – all three members of the Community of Andean Nations (CAN) along with Bolivia and Venezuela. There is also the wider US-led initiative to create the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) by the end of 2005.

The EU has been faithful to its approach of engaging in trade negotiations with Latin America on a region-to-region basis. Thus far, it has been unable to establish an Association Agreement with the CAN, and as yet, it still has not finalized the more advanced Association Agreement negotiations with Mercosur (encompassing Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay). It appears that given the manifold and deep-seated problems Andean integration faces, it is unlikely the EU will succeed in reaching an Association Agreement with its Andean partners in the medium term.

But the problems of the Andean region call for a regional approach and the EU is well placed to bring in its experience and expertise. The lessons the EU learned through its own consolidation process could help the five Andean nations reach a much deeper level of political, economic and functional integration. In such an endeavour, it would be advisable to analyse the role Brazil could play beyond its own borders and beyond Mercosur in the Latin American context. Since President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva came into office in January 2003, Brazil has assumed a more assertive foreign policy role in the region, aiming at counter-balancing US policy in Latin America.

Without giving up its own approach of region-to-region cooperation with the CAN, Mercosur and other regional blocs in Latin American, the EU and its member states should consider engaging in dialogue with Brazil about the future of Latin America and its position in the world. Such an initiative should not come at the expense of confrontation with the US.

Europe’s aim ought to be to do more in Latin America without putting a strain on transatlantic relations but, at the same time, contributing to overcoming the

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