Right now, all eyes are on Europe: the ongoing war in Ukraine and the resulting global political and economic difficulties dominate the geopolitical realm. Unsurprisingly, the current focus of the European Union (EU) is on the war next door. While the resulting economic crisis has led to renewed interest in resilience, in which new solutions are sought to match the current global situation.
Svenja Blanke is editor-in-chief of Journal Nueva Sociedad, Monica Hirst is visiting professor at the Institute of Social and Political Studies of the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Ronja Schiffer is a project assistant at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Argentina.
In this context, a historical, democratic and traditional relationship with a key continent is often overlooked: the EU’s ties with Latin America. Not only the obvious parallels between countries with similar democratic systems, but also the protracted and difficult negotiations on the MERCOSUR agreement, the aim of which is to facilitate trade between the countries of the Southern Cone and the EU, have bare the continent’s neglect and the resulting missed opportunities.
But unexpectedly, Latin America’s desire to reconnect with the EU and focus on opportunities for cooperation is given new emphasis. Mainly to address urgent food and energy shortages as a direct result of the ongoing war.
The people of Latin America are keen to strengthen their cooperation with Europe, especially on soft power issues such as human rights, climate change and the fight against poverty. A representative survey in Latin America measuring the general view of the population and the opinion of the European Union, carried out by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, latin barometer and the Latin American magazine New Society (More information on the survey appears at the end of the article) reflects this desire quite clearly.
In this current period characterized by an institutional vacuum, where Latin America has lost much of its relevance on the global geopolitical chessboard, it is necessary to look for reasons and explanations that go beyond the realm of conventional politics. It is not enough to look only at traditional actors and the national and regional spaces that shape the interests and behavior of governments and other actors, organizations and trends.
It is necessary to listen to the societies themselves and to understand how they see and interpret the issues on the international agenda. The pandemic has offered a unique opportunity to assess exactly that: the region’s ability to react, the Latin American perception of the turbulent international situation, the type of action, the leadership and the example given by the central actors of the global system and in particular the EU.
The current interregional relationship between the EU and Latin America is influenced by how global and European leadership is interpreted in Latin America, the valued and desired areas of cooperation and how they relate to global uncertainties and problems and regional.
The issue of global leadership
In Latin America, the European Union is associated with leadership in specific areas of soft power – the protection of the environment, the defense of human rights, the promotion of world peace and the fight against poverty and inequality.
In fact, there is a clear will to continue cooperation in these areas. However, it is interesting to note that when it comes to security, technological development and economic power, the EU is not seen as a leading player; the United States and China have a clear superiority in this segment. These contrasting perceptions of leadership are reflected in sector partnerships.
In Latin America, relations with the United States and China are considered very important in terms of trade and investment, while the EU is not considered a leader or even a strong partner in this regard .
Despite the limited perception of EU soft power, it is precisely this sphere of soft power and the problems associated with it that are most pressing on the international scene. Issues such as extreme poverty, human rights violations and climate change are – in addition to concerns about the pandemic – the main concerns of the region.
The Covid 19 pandemic and its consequences have exposed the deficits in global governance and led to high levels of uncertainty in the face of serious humanitarian, economic, environmental and political crises that have disrupted all spheres of life. In the case of Latin America, internal and external vulnerabilities proved severe and were exacerbated by the failure to respond collectively.
The search for new answers
This article was written in response to a survey entitled “European Union – Latin America: perspectives, agendas and expectations”. The study was processed by Latinobarómetro during the second half of 2021 and surveyed a representative sample of ten Latin American countries: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The survey design aimed to fill information gaps on local attitudes to global issues. The questions posed covered issues relevant to the region as a whole and its decision makers, as well as international issues, in particular the role of the European Union. To find out more, visit data.nuso.org which has more content and insightful presentations and analysis.
The survey was overseen by an Academic Advisory Board which reviewed and analyzed the results. Its members are also the authors of this article. It is part of a long-term research program carried out by the Dialogo y Paz team of the journal Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New Society: a space for international and geopolitical analysis and debate committed to finding peaceful, constructive and collective solutions to the critical challenges facing Latin America.