The Vienna Summit between Latin America / the Caribbean and the EU: relative success despite low expectations

The Vienna Summit between Latin America / the Caribbean and the EU: relative success despite low expectations

Theme: The fourth EU-Latin America/Caribbean Summit was held on 11-12 May 2006 in Vienna, Austria. The results suggest that the process has a future, but that it needs to be significantly strengthened for more substantial biregional relations.

Summary: The fourth biregional EU-Latin America/Caribbean Summit has resulted in a certain amount of progress in the relations between the regions, such as starting negotiations on an association agreement with Central American countries and possibly with the Andean Community. However, despite these results, the underlying problems that remain in terms of the Summit’s structure and format were highlighted by the populist stance of certain Latin American governments. The growing internal conflicts in Latin America and the search for a higher profile at alternative forums is changing the style of the Euro-Latin American dialogue. The binding nature of summit diplomacy could be weakened even further if deeper reforms are not carried out in the ‘inter-summit’ processes.

Analysis: At the biggest meeting of heads of state and government leaders since the Congress of Vienna in 1815, 58 dignitaries came together in the Austrian capital to hold the fourth European Union-Latin America/Caribbean Summit on 11-12 May 2006. The UN Secretary General, representatives of regional bodies, the head of the European Commission and four of its Commissioners, and the President of the European Parliament also took part. With so many participants –representing 30% of the UN’s member countries–, the bi-regional diplomatic process has reached a dimension that makes the achievement significant headway difficult to envisage, since the particular interests of the parties involved are so diverse. It is therefore not surprising that the Vienna Declaration is 24 pages long and repeats the agreements reached at past summits, without dealing with the basic tasks that the European Commission had laid out in its ‘Communication to the Council’ last December, titled ‘A Stronger Partnership Between the European Union and Latin America’.

The New Quality of the Summit Process: The Broadening of Spaces
The Vienna Summit featured something new, however: the pre-summit process and the massive participation in parallel events bestowed a new quality on the dignitaries’ meeting. With around ten pre-summit conferences organised by the European Commission, the European Parliament, member countries and civil society organisations, a set of activities has been developed to accompany the summit process and to attempt to predetermine –to a certain extent– its agenda and issues. Unfortunately, this has so far occurred within the framework of a very informal and opaque process not directly linked to the decisions made at the Summit. In the future it will be essential to find some way of bringing these meetings more clearly in line with the dignitaries’ deliberations.

The first Euro-Latin American Business Forum and the alternative summit (‘Social Encounter, Linking Alternatives’), in which the Presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela and the Vice-President of Cuba participated, gave a different tone to the now routine summit diplomacy. Following the example set by the Venezuelan President at the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, where he linked the official meeting with his participation at the alternative summit and attended events with two contradictory agendas, it is clear that political staging has become a key factor; this is due largely to the loss of intimacy between the presidents, who barely manage to converse (beyond their bilateral meetings) in the task group work formats that were tried out for the first time at the last Summit in Guadalajara in 2004. The interest of the leaders of Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela in having an impact on alternative audiences and the mass media has led to a new ‘double agenda’ of official and alternative summits.

This implies that the EU needs to reconsider the established procedure for relations with Latin America and the concept of how to carry out the work of summit diplomacy. The excessive political desire for ‘ad hoc multilateralism’ has increased so much that the policy of double spaces and double agendas is distorting deliberations in the summit process and calling their legitimacy into question. The agreements are losing their already very tenuously binding nature and are increasingly open to contradictory readings and reinterpretations. To avoid encouraging this trend, it will be necessary to enhance the binding nature of the commitments made by the parties and design very specific ways to implement them. However, once again the Euro-Latin American process is tending towards the inclusion of civil society interests: a format for deliberations such as the one used between the EU and the European Convention could be a way of moving towards a Euro-Latin American framework –as long as it is clear that such a model would not only enrich and broaden the debate, but would also increase its potential for conflict–.

Internal Conflict in Latin America
On this occasion, the Latin American and Caribbean countries received the most attention at the Summit due to their demonstration of the centrifugal forces at work within the subcontinent itself. At times, it seemed as if a Latin American Summit was being held on European soil. This meant that debate with the EU was relegated to the background and that the EU was to some extent limited to playing the role of observer of internal Latin American discussions. Contrary to what was planned, the nationalisation policies in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela became the main issue at the Summit, not only for the European countries directly affected (Spain and France), but also for Bolivia’s neighbours who were taken by surprise by the decision announced by President Morales on May 1. The new dynamic of the ‘Latin American left’ also had an impact on the determination of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) not to lose its opportunity to begin negotiations with the EU on an association agreement: Bolivia gave its consent at almost the last moment, with the reserve that a common position would be established in late July. Venezuela’s departure from CAN, and a similar statement by the Bolivian government indicating its desire to abandon the organisation, left Colombia, Ecuador and Peru in the difficult situation of finding themselves ineligible for the treatment that the EU decided to give Central America to negotiate an association agreement. This will keep them from having a more systematic link with the EU for the years to come. However, in the case of Central America, the EU managed to make headway towards its goal of incorporating inter-regionalism into its links with Latin America and the Caribbean. Panama had to declare its intention to become a member of the Central American economic integration (SIECA) process in order to be considered part of a strategic association with the EU and Central America. With this decision, the European Council will be able to work towards defining a mandate for the European Commission to begin meetings to negotiate a bi-regional association agreement.

The same sensitivities evident between certain Latin American participants also showed up in the conflict between the Bolivian President Evo Morales and the outgoing Peruvian president, Alejandro Toledo, and in the lack of contact between the Presidents of Argentina and Uruguay. President Kirchner took up environmentalism and reproached Europe for sending polluting companies to Argentina, in reference to the pulp mill conflict that is blocking relations between his country and neighbouring Uruguay. The conflict between Argentina and Uruguay prevented the meeting with MERCOSUR from being held at the presidential level, with the foreign ministers being involved instead.

Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales in the Limelight
Latin America’s presence at the Vienna Summit was characterised by national rivalries. Europe attempted to show its interest in giving a bigger role to the new President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, holding Chile up as a model for economic and political success that is moving –in the words of the Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schüssel– ‘in the right direction’. A 115% increase in trade between Chile and the EU in 2003, and the growth in European investment to 60% of overall foreign investment in the country, reflects the success of a comprehensive agreement with the EU, the Commission said. The Chilean President highlighted her country’s participation in the European military contingent in Bosnia and the presence of the UN in Cyprus, pointing out that the EU is Chile’s most important non-Latin American counterpart. However, the Summit neither reflected the Chilean model nor gave any room for its President to take a prominent role in relation to the other Latin American leaders. Despite European support, Chile’s attempt to play an ‘influential role’ in the region is limited by its various conflicts with its neighbours.

Faced with these declarations, Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales made it clear they did not intend to give way to criticism of their political model, claiming that ‘neoliberalism’ was coming to an end and highlighting the innovative action they have taken to define the future of their own people and of the subcontinent. In short, the pro-market discourse has been removed from the Euro-Latin American summits and replaced by the conviction, expressed by the President of Peru, that ‘poverty conspires against democracy’ in Latin America. This perspective (re)opens the debate on the concept of democracy in the region. The paragraph in the Vienna Declaration on democratic development is worth noting: ‘We reaffirm… that although democracies share common features, there is no single model for democracy, nor is it exclusive to any country or region’. This affirmation is odd, given the very well defined set of values shared by the two regions. It seems as though this is the start of a necessary discussion between Europe and Latin America, if we are to avoid straying from a common path based on common values. Observers were not surprised that the final document did not include any criticism of ‘populism’, nor made any mention of the Brazilian petition for Europe to reduce its subsidies to agricultural production and give greater political backing to negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, it did make it clear that great differences continue to exist on multilateral trade issues between Europe and Latin America with Brazil taking the lead on this particular issue.

Brazil is seeing its leadership in South America weakening, due both to the economic cost involved and the loss of prestige caused by the nationalisation of the Bolivian oil and gas industry. President Lula is already on the campaign trail and is dealing with many problems of corruption, preventing him from taking on a leading role. When the President of Bolivia brought up the historical issue of the territorial dispute over the Brazilian state of Acre, which his country handed over to Brazil in 1903, it was clear that he was interested in undermining President Lula’s conciliatory role at the Summit.

The concern expressed by European leaders, based on statements made by the President of Venezuela, that the Summit could take on an anti-integrationist and anti-globalisation tone was not reflected in the positions taken by the majority of the dignitaries from the region. The parallel summit provided the ideal forum to express such ideas before an audience that applauded the leaders of the ‘new Latin American movement’. Their speeches were studded with accusations of ‘colonial structures’, ‘the neo-liberal empire’ and the EU’s ‘lack of courage’ in the face of the events in Iraq and Iran.

The Results: A Set of Specific Interests but no Outstanding Concepts
After more than 250 bilateral meetings in three days at the Vienna Summit, the result was summarised by the Summit’s host, Wolfgang Schüssel, as follows: ‘everyone has spoken with everyone’. The fact that the Summit’s ‘high point’ for the Venezuelan President was when a carnival dancer suddenly appeared to protest the European paper mills in Uruguay, reflects the wide range of expectations for the event. The leaders’ request that the bi-regional process should produce results and not simply speeches, reflects their dissatisfaction with the summit format, something that will have to be taken seriously if the process is to be improved. Despite this concern, the Vienna Declaration reflects the attempt made to include specific points of interest in the final document, though lacking a general framework or a common message.

Although Euro-Latin American trade reached a record €125 billion in 2005, trade between the two regions remains at a modest level. Overall, the EU accounts for only 12% of Latin American foreign trade, while the figure is only 5.6% in the opposite direction. This situation has very different dynamics to those of other markets (such as trade with China and Asia), but the much desired strategic association between Europe and Latin America is nowhere to be seen. In its message to the dignitaries, the Euro-Latin American Business Forum recommended setting the goal of doubling bi-regional trade by 2012, but the Summit did not wish to include this commitment in its final declaration. However, the decision to start negotiations on an association agreement with Central America and possibly with CAN sends out a clear signal regarding the existing interest in increasing free trade between the regions. The same can be said for the suggestion to double the volume of foreign investment, which was not considered by the presidents, given the current nationalisation processes. Criticism of ‘cheap populism’, both by Mexican President Fox and by the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, was aimed at Chávez and Morales, but was finally omitted in the interest of not appearing to exclude their countries. Neither was there much reflection of Spain’s interest in requesting more cooperation with middle-income countries to reach the Millennium Goals. There was only very lukewarm mention in the final declaration of the negotiations pending for a comprehensive agreement between the EU and MERCOSUR; the parties simply ‘give the negotiators a mandate to intensify their efforts to make headway in the negotiating process’. This makes it clear that the process is subject to the WTO negotiations and will only recover its impetus when these negotiations are over (for better or for worse). Only then will it be possible to continue with more serious bi-regional negotiations to reach an agreement this year.

Beyond the bi-regional agenda, certain consensus was reached on some special interest issues. For the first time, a declaration of the Euro-Latin American summits directly mentioned the Helms-Burton Act and its extraterritorial effects. This may be interpreted as an important accomplishment of Cuban diplomacy, which focused its participation almost exclusively on this issue. This makes it important to see how the EU will define its common position on the Castro regime in late June, when Europe’s relations with the island will once again come under review.

The Vienna Declaration’s mention of the energy issue is important, given the special recognition of the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes –an issue of interest in light of plans announced by Brazil–. It is also important because of the projects announced by Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela, inviting international and regional financial institutions to foment investment in the development of infrastructures for energy interconnection projects. This will test the willingness of the countries involved to offer guarantees to potential participants from outside the region who will help set up the planned networks. Finally, attempts will be made to increase interministerial and interparliamentary cooperation by calling for a meeting of Environment Ministers from the two regions and by accepting the European Parliament’s proposal to create a Euro-Latin American parliamentary assembly.


From Austria (2006) to Peru (2008): The Importance of the ‘Inter-Summit’ Process
Although this Summit was the first meeting of heads of state and government leaders from Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean organised by a country that is not part of the Ibero-American Community, it is generally agreed that the Austrians worked hard and showed considerable determination in their diplomatic effort to make a success of a summit in which few hopes had been placed. The relative success of the agreements reached has left the Euro-Latin American process still alive, but without sufficient dynamism to continue on its own. This makes it necessary to do serious ‘inter-summit’ work, which includes a long list of issues that the parties involved will have to solve.

Latin America is not now a major priority for most European countries. This is particularly true for the ten new member states. Therefore, there is no need to always act as a regional group when dealing with Euro-Latin American relations; rather, it would be advisable to develop formats that allow for differentiated participation by the most active participants on both sides.

Both regions are going through difficult periods internally: the EU, due to the continued lack of a solution to the failures of the Constitutional Treaty; and Latin America, due to internal centrifugal forces that could lead to the paralysis or –in the case of CAN– the possible loss of subregional integration systems. At the same time, Venezuela is emerging as a new subregional force that is shifting the relative weight of South American countries. This period of internal self-definition in the two regions requires effective mechanisms for political dialogue, which does not seem to be finding its own way in the established institutional framework of the Rio Group or in the existing subregional integration systems. Therefore, it will be necessary to use the ‘inter-summit’ space to develop formats with flexible configurations to keep up the political dialogue with the main powers in the subregion in order to maintain the presence of the EU and its member states in the process of determining Latin America’s political future. Both the South American Community of Nations (CSN) and the Ibero-American process have a limited ability to act as substitutes: the former, due to a lack of internal political definition; the latter, due to a relative lack of European input in its deliberations. It is therefore necessary that the European Parliament, the Commission and interested EU member states establish flexible, efficient procedures to enhance the dialogue with Latin America at a key moment in its internal (re)definition.

Summit diplomacy runs the risk of not being up to dealing with two key issues in the future development of Euro-Latin American relations:

(1) The lack of an adequate mechanism for civil society participation in economic development and in the processes of cooperation and political dialogue. It is this dimension of denser and more horizontal relations between Europe and Latin America that could be the way to offset the growing lack of interest on both sides. In this space, it will be necessary to make greater efforts to bring the summit process in line with the dynamics of civil society, for example through multi-issue forums that could act as lead-ups to the summits. This would make it possible to hold the summits less often and ease the leaders’ overloaded agendas.

(2) Summit diplomacy suffers from the fact that many declarations are made but there is limited commitment to implementing the agreements reached. It is essential to find a bi-regional structure to develop and implement the declarations made. To date, only the European Commission acts to some extent as an executive power, making this a unilateral process. Therefore, the ‘inter-summit’ process must be used to develop a common Latin American/Caribbean proposal to join in the work of implementing decisions and agreements through a Euro-Latin American authority. A reference point could be the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB), although this body’s role tends to be much more political than executive. This interest in strengthening executive capacity could find its expression in a ‘double troika’ system, with one party representing the EU and the other representing the Latin American and Caribbean states.

Despite the declarations made at the summits, relations between the EU and Latin America/the Caribbean continue to be focused on the two parties themselves. They have not been recognised by third parties as an international ‘subsystem’, since their agenda remains limited to their bilateral relationship. The nature of the two regional actors limits their ability to project their relationship into the international sphere. Neither the EU nor Latin America/the Caribbean act as a group at an international or multilateral level. The CFSP is limited to trade policy in the framework of the WTO (to the extent of their respective mandates), but cannot be applied to UN affairs or other global issues. Latin American states mostly act unilaterally on the international stage, with no attempt to coordinate their foreign policies. If the joint declaration in favour of multilateralism aspires to be more than a simple pronouncement, it will be necessary for the two regions to work towards greater cooperation at the multilateral level. It is therefore necessary to identify the international spaces in which regional positions can be unified, thus demonstrating the strategic association between the parties. This would make cooperation and coordination in the ‘inter-summit’ process possible, whether on environmental policy or international security issues, enabling both regions to see tangible results in their bi-regional relations. Although this may be difficult to accomplish with all the participants, it would be advisable to strengthen alliances among members to enhance the much desired community of values.

Günther Maihold
Deputy Director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik – SWP), Berlin