The last summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), held in Buenos Aires last January, did not make a good impression. Existing projects vary widely in their goals and ways of operating, with so many conflicts among participating countries and so fragmented regions that it is difficult, if not impossible, to coordinate similar agendas. Therefore, at a time as complex and uncertain as the present, it makes sense to ask whether CELAC is the best mechanism for strengthening the biregional relationship between Europe and Latin America.
The obvious answer to such questions is that, despite its obvious limitations, it is almost the only regionally available tool to achieve a common goal. That’s true, and it’s worth reflecting on its suitability to achieve the above. Recently, Detlef Nolte wondered whether there were enough mutual interests to justify deepening strategic ties between the two regions, and I think the answer is definitely yes, despite some disapproval of deepening with the EU. There is also the serious crisis that the regional integration process is going through. It is a question not only of how much Europe can benefit from a new relationship with Latin America, but also how much Latin America can contribute to solving various global problems, some of which are crucial to Europe’s future.
The final manifesto of the Buenos Aires conference, the 111-point manifesto, demonstrates the difficulties posed by the functioning of CELAC and its possible integration with European interests and goals. Aside from vagueness and rhetorical concessions, the fact is that Ukraine was not mentioned even once. This underscores the need to coordinate the two regions’ positions on the toughest issues on the international and biregional agenda, such as Russian aggression, the development of 5G, at the next EU-CELAC summit in Brussels next July Or the energy transition.
Various examples in Europe and Spain underscore the opportunity represented by the presence of numerous progressive governments in Latin America, and the importance of Brazil’s return to the international arena under Lula da Silva’s leadership. But we should also not lose sight of the enormous contradictions within Latin American progressivism over some sensitive issues in Europe, and the internal difficulties Lula faced in fulfilling his electoral promises. So, for example, the gap in hydrocarbon exploration and extraction between Mexico’s López Obrador and Colombia’s Gustavo Petro is practically insurmountable in terms of energy matrix transformation.
In Brazil’s case, social and fiscal issues demand attention at times like this one, which could complicate its focus on foreign policy issues. Brazil, on the other hand, is an active member of the BRICS. This was during PT’s first government, with Bolsonaro, and it continues to be so in Lula’s new term. This is Lula, who is trying to establish himself as a staunch supporter of peace and a facilitator of dialogue between the two sides of the conflict. For this reason, the Brazilian president insists that at the moment he is unwilling to question Russia (or sell ammunition to Ukraine), although this could be seen as a serious questioning of his alliance with the EU.
China has made the China-CELAC Forum one of the axes of its Latin American policy. However, this is expressed not through limited agreements at the aforementioned summit or parallel meetings, but rather through deepening bilateral relations with countries in the region that are more relevant or interested in it.
Perhaps, without abandoning the biggest goal of the EU-CELAC summit or strengthening the biregional relationship as much as possible, the European Commission should consider simultaneously pursuing other avenues to achieve the same goal: deepening and strengthening the much-needed relationship with Latin America. To this end, it is more necessary than ever to integrate regional and bilateral politics and to strengthen relationships and alliances with those interlocutors who are most receptive. Simultaneously moving forward with all CELAC members seems like a daunting feat, almost impossible to accomplish.
Image: Official Photo VII Cúpula de la CELAC, January 2023. Photo: Palácio do Planalto from Brasilia, Brazil (CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia Commons).