The Greater Significance of the 2008 EU-LAC Conference

The fifth biennial summit between members of the European Union and Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) Countries was held in Lima, Peru on May 16-17, 2008. In spite of the regions’ active pursuit of tangible agreements that would address the problems of poverty and development, little progress was made. The lack of progress was a devastating blow to the legitimacy of the conference. Leaders of both regions must be held accountable for this lack of progress, and need to realize that future relations between these two regions depend on the achievement of goals set for summits like Lima.

History of the Strategic Partnership
In 1999, the first summit between member states of the EU and LAC was held in Rio de Janeiro. At Rio, forty-eight heads of state attempted to address some of the issues affecting their respective countries and to find collaborative solutions to those issues. Both regions also aspired to strengthen consensus on international issues so that they could be contentious with other international powers, especially the United States.

The colonial legacy in the past unequal relationship between the two regions, however, cannot be overlooked when considering the present-day search for partnership. While this historic power imbalance between the two regions certainly still exists, it is not the kind of relationship that either the EU or Latin America should aspire to continue. This gives even more impetus for balanced collaboration to be a master component of their future relationship. Acknowledging the historical links between the two regions may allow LAC countries to effectively move beyond a problematic colonial past, and enter a new geopolitical arena on an equal footing with their former colonizers.

Based on the lack of concrete agreements, critics have argued that the accomplishments of the Rio Summit were meager at best, and a wasted opportunity to create tangible change. In contrast, the Journal of Inter-American Studies and World Affairs took a more optimistic perspective, describing the summit as a historic event that exemplified Latin America’s political and economic significance to industrialized countries as well as the EU’s maturity as an actor on the international scene.

The Early Summits
In 2002, the Second EU-LAC Summit was held in Madrid, Spain and focused on the consolidation of the bi-hemispheric relationship as well as the continuing promotion of social, economic, and political issues. Specifically, the Madrid Declaration aimed to reinforce democratic institutions, welcome the establishment of the International Criminal Court, end discrimination in all forms, combat sources of illicit drug and organized crime, and protect both regions from human rights violations. Economically, the Madrid Declaration pledged to expedite the results of the Doha Work Program, to commit to Association Agreements with MERCOSUR and Chile and to improve the global finance system’s dealings with impoverished nations. Negotiations with Central America and the Andean Community were limited, but an agreement was made to further explore Association Agreements at the summit in 2004. Like the Rio Summit, Madrid was more of an open forum for discussing major issues than a resolution to take specific measures addressing problems occurring in both regions.

Heads of state from the EU and LAC met for a third time in 2004 in Guadalajara, Mexico. The European Union wanted to limit the agenda to issues of social cohesion, to which Latin American and Caribbean representatives reacted negatively because they felt that limitations would prevent the summit from focusing on the pressing issues of poverty and inequality. In spite of this, social cohesion and multilateralism became the overarching goals of the summit, though these topics were not specifically defined. The resulting Guadalajara Declaration left the impression with Latin American officials that they did not have as much of an impact as the EU officials on the creation of the Declaration. Political tension persisted, especially regarding the issue of terrorism, and reports declared that Guadalajara lacked productive political “fervor.” Thus the accomplishments of the summit were viewed as “very modest.”1

In 2006, the Fourth Summit was held in Vienna, and resulted in the initiation of Association Agreements with the Andean Community and the proposed Central American Free Trade Zone (CAFTA-DR). Also significant at this conference was the establishment of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat), presided by two co-chairs, one from each region. The Parliament issued a list of recommended topics to be addressed during the Lima Summit, with the goal of focusing on maximizing its productivity.

In Lima, Poverty and Sustainable Development Take Precedence
While the previous summits significantly enlarged the zone of contacts as well as relations between the two regions, reviews of the actual accomplishments have been mixed. The Lima Summit sought to change these reviews for the better and for the first time in summit history established specific goals for the upcoming meeting. Sadly for representatives of both regions, however, Lima continued the EU-LAC trend of grand rhetoric but limited action.

On May 16 and 17, over sixty heads of state and government from the twenty-seven member states of the European Union and thirty-three Latin American and Caribbean countries convened in Lima, Peru to work towards their designated goals. By narrowing the foci of the summit, organizers sought to avoid airy dialogue that focused on petty regional differences. Peruvian president and summit host Alan García told representatives, “Let that which unites us dominate, instead of prioritizing that which pulls us apart” and went on to stress the importance of developing concrete solutions.

This year, the first theme of the summit included issues of major concern to Latin American nations, poverty, inequality, and inclusion. People in this region have been severely impaired by disparities in the distribution of wealth between upper and lower class citizens and have suffered from an exclusion that hinders the upward mobility of portions of the population. Regarding these issues, José Ramón Machado Ventura, the First Vice President of Cuba, posited that the basic underpinnings of today’s current world order are responsible for high levels of poverty, inequality, and exclusion. He then asserted that the sole way to change this is by promoting solidarity and inclusion among nations.2

The Summit’s second theme, sustainable development, dealt with environmental protection, climate change, and energy. At the Round Table Discussion on this theme, Machado declared that “We [the leaders of EU and LAC countries] must undertake a global revolution sustained by savings, rationality, and efficiency.”3 There was also a heated debate on the topic of biofuels, in which Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, along with the members of the EU, argued that there was no reason to change their policies regarding biofuel production because there was no substantial evidence that they are directly linked to the rise in food prices. Many other members of the Latin American community, however, along with the UN World Food Program and the World Bank, have called for an abandonment of biofuel policies due to the urgent food crisis. What should have resulted from this heated debate was a plan to effectively study the biofuel issue in specific detail- with committees, case studies, and plans to obtain actual evidence. Instead, they only drafted a resolution to try to solve this problem, indicating that both parties ‘agreed to disagree.’

Initiatives at Lima
Aside from these two themes, the Lima Summit provided a forum for a specific regionally- focused dialogues between the EU-Troika (representatives from the EU who deal with foreign and security policy) and the regional blocs of Central America, the Andean Community, Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM), and MERCOSUR. Mexico and Chile were also brought into the smaller discussions. Prior to the summit, the German delegation acknowledged that it did not expect much success to occur in regards to trade agreements due to a lack of unity among EU member-states. With the exception of the CARIFORUM meeting, the only other accomplishments were the establishment of dates for future negotiations. With the EU’s long record of stalled negotiations, especially in the case of MERCOSUR, in which parties have been working towards compromise for the past thirteen years, the establishment of dates for future negotiations is a disappointing decision that lacks substance.

Summit attendees were pleased with the progress of CARIFORUM, a group comprised of thirteen Caribbean states along with Belize, Guyana, and Suriname. During their meeting with the EU Troika on May 17, the Tenth European Development Fund (EDF) allocated 165 million Euros to the region for purposes of development, consolidation of economic interests to create a single common market, stronger regional cooperation, higher investment in human capital, and addressing regional social issues. The EU also offered support for the Caribbean Regional Climate Change Strategy and worked with CARIFORUM to establish a technical group to ensure implementation of the proposed changes.

Both the Central American nations and the Andean Community established 2009 deadlines for trade negotiations with the EU, but little else. As reported in the daily Peru21, the Troika declared they would consider a more flexible framework for negotiations which would recognize the Andean countries independently and not necessarily collectively.

Negotiations with MERCOSUR also stalled. While the resulting document from the May 17 meeting highlighted both parties’ commitment to concluding negotiations, it produced no actual progress. Rather than resolve the issues at the summit, negotiations were suspended pending the results of the Doha World Trade talks. Although the completion of the Doha Talks would provide more insight, these talks have been slow and unproductive. Neither MERCOSUR nor the EU can afford to wait for progress on a discussion that may never occur. In addition, no specific date was established for negotiations to commence besides “later in 2008”, rendering this meeting wholly unproductive.

The Lima DeclarationFancy Rhetoric?
The resulting Lima Declaration is a 57-point document covering the issues discussed during the summit as well as proposals for the future. It begins with an affirmation of the commitment of both parties to promoting and protecting the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, staying within the framework of international law and, specifically for this conference, concentrating on questions of poverty and sustainable development. It also includes a clause elaborating on the importance of pursuing the negotiations of Association Agreements with the sub-regional groups.

The Declaration acknowledges that the problems of poverty, inequality, and exclusion must be addressed in order to foster social cohesion and improve the overall quality of life for all peoples. It promotes the consolidation of trade within regions, the knowledge-sharing of social practices to alleviate human suffering, and the development of a comprehensive approach towards international migration. The plan to implement this agenda includes securing adequate funds from individual nations to fight these issues, continuing dialogue between regions, and sharing successful experiences amongst each other.4

Despite this “plan”, one June 18, 2008 the European Parliament approved the EU’s new restrictions on international migration. The restrictions include a provision to detain illegal immigrants for up to eighteen months while deportation is being processed. Latin American leaders have since expressed their outrage, initiated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s threat to cut oil exports and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s remark that the restrictions are “a directive of shamefulness.”

The Lima Declaration acknowledges inextricable links between development and poverty, insisting that the achievement of sustainable development is a condition for the alleviation of poverty which will lead to increased development. The Declaration reaffirms the commitment of both regions to preserving the environment and to fostering bi-regional cooperation on these issues. It also declares both regions’ determination to conclude negotiations concerning the implementation of the Bali Action Plan and Kyoto Protocol by 2009 and 2012, respectively. Furthermore, the Declaration promotes raising awareness of issues regarding climate change and its effects on economic growth, supporting policies and programs that collaborate with the private sector and other regional actors, while recognizing that states have sovereign rights to manage and regulate their own resources.

With regards to environmental sustainability, the meeting advocated stronger support for forestry management, strengthening the Convention of Biological Diversity, and developing a bi-regional policy dialogue on water and its uses. As a result, EUroCLIMA was launched to foster cooperation on environmental issues.5 The concluding points of the Declaration include promises to work towards the creation of an EU-LAC Foundation to strengthen the bi-regional partnership and enhance its visibility.

Eloquently-worded statements affirming that both regions “care” about the issues of poverty and development and work to “promote support” for these issues often do little to achieve their goals. The Lima Declaration is fancy rhetoric and maintains a façade of actual progress, a document doing little besides appeasing the conferences supporters and prolonging action.

Lessons to be Learned from Lima
In spite of the lack of satisfactory results at Lima, the dynamics there were more optimal for change than at past summits. Regional differences and name-calling were by and large absent from Lima, which was unexpected due to recent issues between Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as the intensifying border tensions between Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. The summit came at an especially unstable, even dangerous time for Colombian and Venezuelan relations, beginning only one day after Interpol announced the authenticity of documents implicating that Chávez had cooperated with the FARC rebel group operating in Colombia. In spite of this, discourse did not stray from the focused goals of the summit, with the exception of a side comment from Chávez to reporters. To the pleasure of García and the European leaders present in Lima, there were no open arguments between Colombian and Venezuelan officials. The ability of the heads of state to put aside their regional differences and combine resources in order to attempt to combat poverty and improve development says wonders about the organization of the summit and also about the dire need for cooperation in the realm of contemporary diplomacy.

The Lima summit is the first EU-LAC gathering that has included major discourse on possible solutions to the problems facing the environment today. In spite of a lack of specific initiatives, this summit demonstrates the seriousness with which countries are starting to treat the subjects of global warming and climate change, thus representing a valuable step in the process of searching for viable solutions.

However discourse alone, while constructive, will not suffice. It is on occasions such as Lima that the most important decisions regarding the future of the world must be made. That leaders were able to put aside their regional disputes for two days, while important, is not yet the success that the summit needs to achieve in order to create tangible change. Though not easy for heads of state and government representing so many different political agendas to come together and produce concrete resolutions, this is exactly what must be done. What other opportunity do these regions have to combine their interests and focus on a compromise that would benefit the people of both regions economically and socially?

The Summit was considered moderately “successful” (at least by its organizers) because its leaders noted that “poverty, inequality, and exclusion still weigh heavily on various sectors of the population from gaining equal access to opportunities” and addressing these issues is a “moral, political, and economic imperative”.6 Yet acknowledging the need to eradicate poverty and promote inclusion does not mean that these aspirations will automatically come to fruition. The Summit was “successful” because environmental initiatives have finally begun to receive attention. Extensive discourse on this matter, however, was long overdue and as the EU Observer reports, the results of the lengthy talks were in actuality “fruitless”.7 Some progress was made in the sub-regional trade agreements, yet decisions have been prolonged until 2009 for some blocs and, for MERCOSUR, left undetermined altogether.

The Summit was “successful” because, as stated in Part 8 of the Lima Declaration, leaders were “deeply concerned by the impact of increased food prices” and vowed to “work towards reaching concrete results” at the June 3-5 World Food Security High-Level Conference. Considering that the increase in global food prices will not slow down any time soon, however, delaying action is not only risky but is sure to cost lives. Moreover, a united Latin American front was not present at this conference. The Final Declaration calls for economic powerhouses to give US $30 billion to underdeveloped nations, an amount that UN studies show would eradicate world hunger if properly allocated. During that time, however, representatives of Argentina, Cuba, and Venezuela expressed dissent, maintaining that the true source of world hunger was not identified in the Final Declaration.8 After much protest from these countries and a long delay in the ratification of the document, the language of these three LAC countries was amended in the Declaration. A united Latin American position, or at the very least more protest from LAC countries, would have provided stronger support for the case made by Argentina, Cuba, and Venezuela. The opportunity for LAC countries and representatives from the EU to solidify their positions on the food crisis was largely wasted. Additionally, the International Institute for Sustainable Development did not even include Lima in its discussion of past summits on combating bioenergy and food security, an indication of the lack of progress.

If these major summit goals were not accomplished, what progress can be claimed for Lima? After five summits, it is safe to say that a strategic partnership has, in fact, been established. What now remains is for action to take place. Future relations between the European Union and Latin American and Caribbean nations depend on the successful rapid integration of these discussions into concrete plans. For the sake of the legitimacy of these gatherings and the process that they uphold, one can only hope that in Madrid in 2010, potentially groundbreaking discussions will result in trailblazing accords and tangible results.