Latin America and the EU: The importance of transatlantic relations

22 Jan 2021 – Written by Andrea Rocio Limon

Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) share various languages, a provocative history, trade agreements and differing levels of democratic institutionalism. The United States and China have always kept close relations with the LAC due to its strategic placement in the world. The LAC’s warmer and tropical climates allow for the growth of a large number of crops that are exported to other parts of the world, including the European Union. These include coffee, cacao, and various fruits and vegetables.

It is imperative for the European Union to tend to its relations with the LAC and continue to pursue diplomatic visits with this strategic part of the world. Latin American and European Union relations have remained stagnant due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the conference scheduled for the beginning of 2020 was rescheduled to later in the year. In this series of articles, I will cover three important dimensions of Latin American and EU relations. Firstly, the LAC must ensure the security of its citizens, through the existence of a fair criminal justice system and holding LAC governments accountable on par with EU norms of security and justice. Secondly, the EU should include a sustainable and climate conscious LAC policy clause regarding the environment in its agreements, as it did with the democratic clause it has included since the early 1990s. Finally, the EU should continue to advocate for, and reach a deal on, the long awaited EU-Mercosur agreement.

Latin America has long been plagued by growing insecurity, human rights violations by state and non state actors, and a fragile criminal justice system. With the rise of organised crime and an ever globalising world, the facilitation of these crimes has begun to pick at the cracks of the democratic institutions in place. Because of this, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) reported in October 2020, “Syrians, Afghans, Pakistanis, Colombians, and Venezuelans lodged the most applications (slightly more than two fifths of all applications in the EU+)”.

It is apparent that Europe must tend to its relations with LAC as the continent currently receives a large number of asylum applications from Colombia and Venezuela. Spain is the destination of choice for this inflow of asylum seekers, as the shared language, close cultural aspects, and colonial history allow for a smoother transition into society. This is often overlooked though, as LAC refugees are not fleeing war zones – they are fleeing violent state and non state actors enabled by failing institutions. Additionally, a difference between these asylum seekers and the more familiar perception of those arriving to Mediterranean countries from the Middle East and North Africa is that these refugees are coming via airports. Therefore, Spain holds the unique position to monitor this inflow, and must make setting the criteria for handling these cases and situations a priority.

The European Union has already made immigration reforms a priority on their agenda, but Spain could still break ground by setting new standards for these non-traditional refugees, including how to alleviate pressure on an already over-saturated asylum office. One of these reforms is to deny asylum status to those labeled as ‘economic refugees’ to ensure that those who truly need international protection are aided in an efficient way. Italy, Greece and Spain are firm supporters in a shared European solidarity in the housing and resettlement of these refugees. But with a growing resentment for progressive immigration laws and the hesitation by some EU states to take in their share of asylum seekers, too few countries dealing with overcrowded migrant camps and facilities can often result in the refugees being left to deal with it on their own. Brussels has begun to introduce, and hopefully enforce, an obligatory solidarity migration pact to help the struggling Mediterranean states accommodate more migrants from Latin American and Caribbean states.

The EU has implemented a democratic clause in all their agreements following Argentina’s military dictatorship. This became an EU norm that all third countries must sign and abide by to continue relations. Therefore the possibility of Europe using an environmentally conscious agenda to encourage LAC states to participate in sustainable climate change reform is not far-fetched. In the past, the EU has had success in protecting democratic institutions that align with European norms. As such, the European Union can apply the same principle towards the LAC region to improve their weak criminal justice systems, stop further human rights violations and address the absence of environment policy. This is especially important when discussing LAC as despite accounting for 15% of the earth’s landmass, the region is responsible for generating 33% of the world’s water – an increasingly precious resource.

Finally, the United States and China nurture their relations with Latin America and the Caribbean because of its strategic location and its potential to support foreign business ventures and investments. The EU-Mercosur agreement was in negotiations for over 20 years, the EU and founding parties still have yet to sign and ratify the deal. This agreement is a tool in place to counter the growing influence of the US and China, where the EU and the LAC become passive and subordinate actors. Although this deal would help EU and LAC relations, there are concerns from outside parties such as beef farmers in Europe and indigenous communities in the LAC that fear this agreement would impact their livelihood. The European Union has shown the LAC, through their neglect of diplomatic visits and conferences on potential foreign policy negotiations, that it is not a priority on the EU agenda. However, in the most recent conference held between LAC and EU ministers in December 2020, it was agreed that they would organise a bi-regional summit and increase political dialogue. This step shows solidarity and the interest in developing a partnership, especially as the last time the two regions held talks was in 2015. 

This is the first instalment of my series on Latin American and European Union relations. There are three insight pieces planned for this series followed by a summary article with both potential problems and solutions to the issues discussed. Firstly, I will discuss the ongoing security crisis in LAC by state and non state actors causing citizens to flee to Europe. The EU is the largest provider of humanitarian assistance yet, despite these efforts, they continue to receive a large amount of asylum seekers. Secondly, I will discuss the need for the EU to pressure the LAC region by implementing an environment clause in all future agreements to ensure the future of the planet and its resources. Thirdly, I will discuss the ongoing EU-Mercosur agreement and its importance in foreign policy relations with the United States and China.

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Recommended citation:

Limon, A. R. (2021) Latin America and the EU: The importance of transatlantic relations, IDRN, 22 January. Available at: https://idrn.eu/latin-america-and-the-eu-the-importance-of-transatlantic-relations [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].