Currently the EU maintains so-called Strategic Partnerships with Mexico (2008), Brazil (2007) and a bi-regional partnership with the Latin-Americann and Caribbean (LAC) countries. A paper of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (pdf in German) assesses if these partnerships were rather arbitrary choices or are based on a EU strategy in the region.
While the European Union usually tries to build inter-regional partnerships with other continental blocs, this model seems to have failed in Latin America. The cooperation with the LAC-countries did not deliver the envisaged results due to a stagnating inter-regionalism in Latin America and political disagreements between Latin American countries. Recently agreed partnerships with Brazil and Mexico aim to put these countries in a privileged position and pose a shift in the EU strategy for Latin-America.(See a publication by the German Institute for International and Security Studies on the interregional Strategic Partnerships of the European Union (in German).
The author of the GIGA paper looks at the interests behind the new bilateral partnerships. Regarding the cooperation with Brazil a 3-year Joint Action Plan from December 2008 envisages initiatives in the area of peace and security, promotion of regional and multilateral cooperation and sustainable development. This agenda is similar to other bilateral partnerships, i.e. with China, India or South Africa.
Brazil is also the most important trading partner of the EU in Latin-America and on top of agricultural exporters (13%) to the Union. Furthermore the leading role in the production of biofuels is seen crucial for the EU energy strategy. Brazil sees itself as leading nation and global broker of Latin American interests. This however is partly objected by other Latin American countries. Nonetheless it was one of the leading Southern countries who successfully blocked WTO agricultural liberalization talks, i.e. in Cancún. Since the EU wants to avoid future confrontations it aims to bring Brazil closer to EU positions and counts on the influence on other Latin American actors.
While many of the reasons for a strategic partnership with Mexico are similar to the once just mentioned for Brazil, the EU particularly values Mexico's bridge function between North and Latin America. The Central American country is also represented in several regional bodies and currently member of the UN Security Council. The relatively high carbon-dioxide emissions of Mexico make it also an important actor during in the UN climate talks.
According to the author climate and energy related themes are dominating the partnership agenda of the EU in Latin America. The EU strives to convince as many countries as possible of European positions. However, none of the actors can actually pressure for results. The influence of Brazil or Mexico on other Latin-American countries is limited and their leading ambitions contested. Furthermore the bilateral partnerships could give the wrong signal and shy away other LAC members.
The next EU-Brazil summit will take place under the Swedish EU Presidency in October. The LAC and the EU will meet again 2010.
By Martin Behrens
See also the Euforic newsfeed and dossier on the EU- Latin America relations