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A social, cultural and scientific boost to EU-LAC relations

In the face of deadlocked free trade agreement negotiations with Mercosur, the cultural, scientific and social dimensions of EU-LAC relations have acquired increased significance. The EULAC Focus project has been looking into ways to strengthen these bonds.

Society

The 1990s didn’t only see a return to democracy in much of the Latin American and Caribbean region (LAC): they were also marked by attempts to forge a stronger EU-LAC relationship. Decades later, bi-regional relations have only evolved in areas that were initially not considered central. The EULAC Focus (Giving focus to the Cultural, Scientific and Social Dimension of EU – CELAC Relations) project believed that the time had come to review them. EULAC Focus started from a thorough analysis of the institutional set-up for those relations, in order to deepen existing knowledge on the concepts and visions underpinning this partnership. To do that, the team has been retracing the history of EU-LAC relations since they were first officialised in 1994. Compensating ‘depth’ with ‘breadth’ “This should have led to an ambitious trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur, but this didn’t work out,” explains Prof. Ramon Torrent, EULAC Focus coordinator. “So in 1999, President Chirac (of France) and Prime Minister Aznar (of Spain) suggested the organisation of ‘summits’ between the two regional leaderships: Maybe the idea was that ‘breadth’ (a very wide agenda of exchanges) would compensate for the lack of ‘depth’ (economic content), but this has clearly not worked either: progress in the very wide cultural, scientific and social dimensions has not compensated at all for the absence of an economic agreement with Mercosur, which was the main objective in 1994 and has still not been finalised.” EULAC Focus therefore concentrates on these three dimensions. It aims to: provide an overview of the regional agenda in these domains; critically examine past and current initiatives; identify lessons learned and impact; point at opportunities to reinvigorate the bi-regional agenda; and identify likely scenarios for future EU-LAC relations. To devise such scenarios, the project built upon two relevant assessments: one issued by the European Commission in 2017, and one issued by the IBD-Atlantic Council in 2016 for LAC. These two reports proposed five scenarios for each region, resulting in a total of 25 ‘bi-regional’ potential combinations. “Out of this list, four bi-regional scenarios were selected for being plausible, structurally different, internally coherent and useful for drawing policy recommendations and making decisions,” Prof. Torrent explains. What future for EU-LAC relations? So, what does the future of this relationship look like exactly? “If we are looking at this problem from a purely empirical point of view, being lucid and looking at the facts, it’s very difficult to be optimistic. Both the EU and LAC suffer very serious internal difficulties, and the process of bi-regional summits is currently paralysed,” he says. It doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t possible to do better. Prof. Torrent believes that both sides might need to become ‘ambitiously modest’, that is, being aware of the difficulties and the relative scarcity of means while at the same time looking for an ambitious outcome. To help both regions in this endeavour, the EULAC Focus consortium intends to devise an action plan and a set of recommendations whilst considering the EU’s nature as a political entity with competences of attribution. “The EU cannot do everything, and most of what it can do is ‘inner-looking’. This means we must change the way we approach things and, instead of discussing the cultural, scientific and social dimensions of EU-CELAC relations, we should think – with an ambitiously modest attitude – about how to give an EU-LAC dimension to the EU’s cultural, scientific and social policies,” concludes Prof. Torrent.

Keywords

EULAC Focus, LAC, Mercosur, EU, partnership, free trade agreement, culture, science, social, bi-regional summits

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