Written by Marc Jütten (updated on 05.09.2023).
The long-awaited summit between the EU and Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) took place in Brussels on 17 and 18 July 2023, under the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU. Expectations were high in the run-up to the summit, as this was the first such meeting in eight years. Diplomatic negotiations on the wording for the final declaration on Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and on colonial history, economic exploitation and slavery overshadowed the meeting. Finally, the declaration – touching upon a series of issues on which the two regions agreed to cooperate – was endorsed by all countries except Nicaragua, which did not agree with the paragraph on Ukraine. No substantial progress was made on the envisaged EU Association Agreements with Chile, Mercosur and Mexico.
Against the background of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, China’s emergence as a key actor in Latin America, the EU’s quest for supply of resources such as lithium and green hydrogen and its attempt to foster alliances in a polarised world, this year’s summit was an opportunity to relaunch the EU-CELAC strategic partnership. Preparations for the summit already started last year: the EU-CELAC Meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers in Buenos Aires on 27 October 2022 relaunched the high-level political dialogue between the two regions and endorsed a bi-regional roadmap as a tangible sign of a forward-looking and positive agenda. The High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy (HR/VP), Josep Borrell, and the European Commission adopted a joint communication on 7 June 2023 setting out a new agenda for relations between the EU and the LAC countries that aims to strengthen the strategic partnership through reinforced political engagement, boosted trade and more sustainable investment through the Global Gateway connectivity strategy. However, while LAC and the EU are considered to be, in principle, two broadly compatible regions – particularly in their efforts towards a green energy transition – their relations face challenges: LAC countries’ predominantly neutral position on Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, concerns regarding the possible external impact of the EU’s Green Deal legislation on, for example, exports from LAC to the EU, and the EU’s sustainability and human rights approach. Moreover, many LAC countries consider China to be a reliable partner, while the EU sees the country as a partner, economic competitor and a systemic rival.
Outcome of the summit
During the summit, leaders addressed a series of topics, including enhanced cooperation in multilateral fora, global peace and stability, trade and investment, economic recovery, efforts to combat climate change, research and innovation, and justice and security for citizens. The EU presented the launch of the Global Gateway Investment Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean, and pledged to invest €45 billion in projects in the region until 2027 around four pillars: a fair green transition, an inclusive digital transformation, human development, and health resilience and vaccines.
Other deliverables were the following:
- Leaders pledged to hold an EU-CELAC summit every two years, with the next gathering scheduled for 2025, as outlined in the EU-CELAC Roadmap 2023-2025.
- Stepping up clean and renewable energy cooperation with Argentina and Uruguay, with the signature of two memoranda of understanding.
- Strengthening cooperation with Chile on sustainable critical raw materials supply chains.
- Releasing €10 million to tackle the unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Haiti.
- Signature of memoranda of understanding with Honduras, El Salvador and Ecuador on bilateral relations, focusing on climate change and the digital agenda.
- Agreement between the EU Member States to sign the Post-Cotonou Agreement.
- EIB lending €300 million to Banco Santander Brasil for small-scale solar energy investments.
- EIB financing climate action projects in Chile with more than €300 million, including its first green mortgage loan outside Europe.
It has been reported that there was significant unease between the two sides on drafting the joint declaration for the summit. Not only did the LAC countries want to weaken or even remove all references to the war in Ukraine, they also demanded reparations over colonial occupation. Finally, all leaders – except from Nicaragua – agreed on a declaration that had been watered down regarding Russia’s war against Ukraine. In fact, the text does not even mention Russia but expresses deep concern over the ongoing war against Ukraine. The communiqué, containing 41 paragraphs, touched on a broad variety of issues such as climate change, reform of the international financial architecture, and inclusive sustainable development. The leaders also recognised parliamentary diplomacy as an important dimension of the relationship, and commended the constructive role played by the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat) and the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.
The leaders welcomed the ongoing processes towards the signature of the modernised EU-Chile Advanced Framework Agreement and the EU-Mexico Global Agreement. Moreover, they took note of the ongoing work between the EU and Mercosur, although no significant progress was recorded. In the margins of the summit, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and European Commission Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis met and reaffirmed their determination to work towards the conclusion of the agreement by the end of 2023. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said that the EU would soon receive a counter-proposal on the EU’s request for an additional instrument to address environmental concerns.
A side meeting with the Presidents of France, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, the HR/VP and envoys representing both Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro government and its opposition took place on 17 July, focusing on Venezuela’s political crisis. The four presidents and the HR/VP called for a meeting between the government and the opposition of Venezuela, to discuss how to hold free elections that could be recognised by the international community. Borrell offered the possibility of sending an EU electoral observation mission (EOM).
President of the European Council Charles Michel considered the summit a ‘political success’ and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the summit ‘a new beginning for old friends’. The CELAC President pro tempore, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, described the summit as a ‘historic gathering’ and stressed that there were a lot of actions to follow up. Some experts were of the opinion that the resumption of meetings between CELAC and EU leaders was a promising development in terms of strengthening dialogue, but criticised the lack of concrete agreements and projects. A litmus test of the 2023 EU-CELAC Summit’s success will be whether the partners manage to finalise the three pending key international agreements (Mercosur, Mexico and Chile) soon.
European Parliament position
The EuroLat Bureau agreed at its meeting on 3 July 2023 on a joint statement by the EuroLat co-chairs, Javi López and Oscar Dário Pérez, to address the summit. Among other things, the statement focused on the importance of concluding pending bilateral trade and association agreements, on revitalising multilateralism, on strict compliance with international law and on climate change.
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola attended the EU-CELAC Summit, stressing on behalf of the Parliament the importance of constructive improvements on trade deals with Chile, Mexico and Mercosur, and underlining that, at the same time, sustainability and environmental concerns need to be covered in any progress on trade agreements. Moreover, President Metsola announced that the Parliament has taken the decision to open an antenna office in the region to further increase already active parliamentary democracy debate and inter-parliamentary exchanges between the EU and LAC. Finally, she said that the Parliament was expecting strong language and condemnation of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, recalling in particular that no discussions on Ukraine should take place without Ukraine and that peace in Ukraine needs to come with territorial integrity. In the margins of the summit, President Metsola held meetings with Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso, and Uruguay’s President Luis Lacalle Pou. The 15th plenary session of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat) took place in Madrid from 24 to 27 July.
Read this ‘at a glance’ note on ‘Outcome of the 2023 EU-CELAC summit‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.