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WORLD | 06-05-2024 16:13

Far-right surge in European elections may put EU-CELAC relations at risk

A strengthening of the far right in upcoming European parliamentary elections could put the brakes on the EU's relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.

The projected strengthening of the far right in next month’s European elections may represent a brake on the EU's relations with Latin America, especially when it comes to trade agreements such as the EU-Mercosur deal, which has been under negotiation for two decades.

After eight years of cold estrangement, the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held a long-awaited summit in Brussels in 2023, and the two blocs are planning another for 2025 in Colombia.

The 2023 summit was eagerly awaited but discussions seemed to fizzle out in an atmosphere that was clearly affected by years of scant dialogue.

At that summit, Latin Americans made no secret of their reluctance to automatically adopt the EU's position on the war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, EU countries were surprised that instead of discussing the war in Ukraine, Caribbean nations insisted on airing its well-known position of demanding compensation for slavery.

The two blocs are due to meet again at the highest level next year, but a strengthening of the far right in the European elections in June could have a major impact on dialogue.

A strengthening and broadening of the influence of the far right in the European Parliament could open the door to more protectionist positions.

At the European Commission, current president Ursula von der Leyen is a candidate for re-election, although it remains to be seen how she will organise her priorities if the far right becomes more influential.

Spanish Socialist MEP Mónica González, who was born in Argentina, says a strengthening of the far right in European parliamentary elections would lead to a shift “towards protectionism’ in trade matters.

However, González said there are already laws and rules approved and ratified in the EU that will make it very difficult to backtrack on previous positions. 

“The EU will not go backwards, but it will slow down” the relationship between the EU and Latin America and the Caribbean, she said.

“Slowing down does not mean going backwards, but just taking [the relationship] at a different pace,” she underlined.

For Brazilian expert Gustavo Gayger Muller, from the Centre for Global Governance Studies in Leuven, Belgium, it is necessary to differentiate between the so-called ‘Eurosceptic’ movements of the far right – i.e. those which distrust European institutions.

In Gayger Muller’s view, there is “a strengthening of Eurosceptic parties, but the presidency of the European Parliament will continue to be held by someone moderate.” It will therefore be key to follow the election of the head of the European Commission, he emphasised.

 

‘Reliable partner’

Although the European Parliament has to discuss and approve trade agreements, trade negotiations are dealt with centrally via the EU Commission.

“I don't see Von der Leyen as the most enthusiastic leader on Latin America,” said Gayger Muller, pointing out that the German leader has more pressing concerns.

The new European Commission will have to choose “between maintaining the priority of negotiating bilateral or multilateral agreements, or changing course towards unilateral measures,” said the expert.

However, some central issues on its agenda, such as environmental transitions, should also have an impact on the relationship with Latin America, he added.

One of the criticisms of Von der Leyen, the expert said, is that so far she has used a “fairly green discourse, but one that has lacked implementation.” If she is re-elected for another term, “there will be greater pressure in this regard,” said Gayger Muller.

For González, mobilisation of “the progressive vote” is crucial to ensure that “relations with Latin America do not come to a halt.”

CELAC “is a reliable partner” and a “strategic ally” for the EU, she said.

In González's opinion, European firms will not stop doing business with Latin America, but negotiations will take place amid agreements with specific countries and “not as European policy.”

The EU is unlikely to sign “any more association agreements” and therefore “we are going to witness a cooling off” with Latin America, she added.

This picture leaves the future of the EU's agreement with Mercosur, which has been negotiated for more than 20 years and has yet to be finalised, shrouded in uncertainty.

The agreement seemed to be very close to being concluded by the end of 2023, but from 2024 onwards momentum has stalled. Since then, meetings have only been held at a technical level.

After the agreement was first announced in 2019, the EU began to demand additional chapters, in particular on environmental protection and quality standards. In return Mercosur nations also made new demands.

If enforced, the EU-Mercosur deal would create an integrated market with almost 800 million inhabitants.

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