Thursday, January 31, 2013

VOXXI: The EU-CELAC Summit and the future of hemispheric integration

The EU-CELAC Summit and the Future of Hemispheric Integration
W. Alejandro Sanchez
January 30, 2013
Originally published:

Around 40 heads of state and 60 diplomatic delegations from countries of the European Union (EU), and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), met during the weekend of January 26 in Santiago, Chile. The EU-CELAC summit focused on increasing trade ties between the two blocs while promoting sustainable development and protecting the environment.
Whereas the future of European economies remains uncertain due to the enormous amount of ongoing problems with several of its member countries, the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean continue to boom. However, not everything is perfect among CELAC members and the real underlying question is not the future of EU-CELAC relations but whether CELAC will be able to maintain unity between the new organization’s over 30 members during the coming years.

Europe needed a ‘win’

The EU-CELAC summit took place amidst that fog of the current global financial storm that has hit the EU particularly hard. EU countries like Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal have come very close to economic collapse on several occasion over the past few years, and their continued near insolvency and austere fiscal reforms have sparked several major protests, particularly in Greece.
In addition, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced his intent to hold a referendum regarding British membership in the EU by 2018 at the latest. What more, Scotland will hold a referendum regarding a possible Scottish independence from the UK in 2014. These challenges mean that the EU and its members will likely face many dramatic challenges in the near future.
Conversely, Latin America and the Caribbean have been enjoying an economic boom over the last decade, where countries like Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru have become economic powerhouses. As a result of economic growth, vast natural resources and a growing productive workforce, CELAC has increasingly attracted trade and investments from the international community. For example, the U.S. is looking to create an ambitious intercontinental free trade area, the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would include Australia, Singapore as well as Latin American nations like Mexico, Chile and Peru. In addition,Latin American trade with China has continued to grow. Finally, Latin America has also approached Middle Eastern markets, as exemplified by the Third summit between the Arab World and South America held in Peru. In light of recent positive regional economic developments in the Western Hemisphere, it was no surprise that Europe strove to portray itself as an attractive trade partner in Santiago.

EU-CELAC Summit: What keeps it together?

The ideological basis for CELAC is a desire for both greater regional integration and further independence from Washington’s hegemony in the region. However, it is debatable whether the new organization will remain united in the coming years due to the differences between its members in terms of national interests and objectives. Moreover, it is noteworthy to mention that Cuba has become the head role of CELAC’s rotating leadership. This sends a clear message to Washington that the rest of the Americas want Havana to be more integrated into the inter-American system.
It will be interesting to see how the White House will behave towards the region during Obama’s second presidential term. The new administration has already received multilateral diplomatic pressure during the 2012 Summit of the Americas in Colombia from several states who wanted Cuba to attend, contrary to the wishes of Washington. The next summit is scheduled to be held in Panama in 2015. It is expected that similar pressure on Washington to allow for Havana’s presence in such regional forums will only increase in the coming years.
Nevertheless, while Cuba is an issue that is commonly raised whenever there are talks about hemispheric integration, it is not a critical issue for nations that may have other, more immediate diplomatic concerns and which may prove to be more divisive among CELAC states. Some of the more consequential issues which have affected the region in recent years include: The border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, as well as Colombia’s discomfort stemming from a ruling by the International Court of Justice over a maritime border dispute with Nicaragua. In addition, Bolivia continues to demand a territorial corridor linking it to the sea that would transverse Chile; Bolivian President Evo Morales has declared that he wants his country to have sea access by 2025.
Even the EU-CELAC summit sparked controversy as Paraguay did not attend the high level meeting. (The Chilean government said Asuncion chose not to attend while the Paraguayans said they were not invited). Paraguay has been isolated from regional groups like UNASUR and MERCOSUR since former President Fernando Lugo was controversially removed from office last June 2012. Besides the Paraguay issue, the EU-CELAC summit also demonstrated the divide among some CELAC nations regarding commerce, as countries like Peru, Mexico and Chile were aiming to receive more investments from Europe. Meanwhile, ALBA nations like Venezuela protested the addition of paragraphs in the summit’s final declaration that called for the “legal certainty” of European investments. In other words, CELAC’s most foreboding challenge in the coming years will be to maintain unity among its members.
The upcoming March referendum on the Falklands/Malvinas islands will be a test to see if CELAC members can remain as a cohesive unit around an issue that isn’t based in anti-U.S. sentiments. It will be critical for Argentina to gain the support of CELAC in its protest of the referendum, as Buenos Aires contests the control of the islands with London.
The EU-CELAC summit culminated with the predictable resolutions and agreements to improve cooperation between both regions, particularly regarding trade. CELAC has arguably emerged as the next great economic powerhouse, but the key to its diplomatic weight will be the extent to which the group can remain as a single bloc in its dealings with the rest of the world. While at first glance CELAC may appear united, the truth is that there may not be much “glue” to hold this massive new multinational agency together in the long run.

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