GP Short Notes # 739, 25 July 2023
Third EU-CELAC Summit: Three Takeaways
By Sneha Surendran
On 17 and 18 July, leaders of the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), after a gap of eight years, convened in Brussels for their third summit. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, welcomed the CELAC leaders, stating that Europe wanted to be “the partner of choice for Latin America and the Caribbean.”
The summit aimed to reaffirm ties between the member states, which was reflected in the theme for the event: “Renewing the bi-regional partnership to strengthen peace and sustainable development.” The discussions at the summit revolved around security, current geopolitics, climate, and trade, along with talks on Europe’s colonialism past, the transatlantic slave trade, and demands for economic reparations.
Following are three major takeaways of the summit.
1. On the Ukraine War, CELAC refuses to criticize Russia
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, began his address by calling upon the participants to collectively condemn Russia for the “illegal war” it was waging on Ukraine. However, Ralph Gonsalves, President of CELAC and Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, responded: “…this summit ought not to become another unhelpful battleground for discourses on this matter, which has been and continues to be addressed in other more relevant forums.”
The LAC states have largely stayed out of the war. Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua are Russian allies, with Cuba being a long-time partner to the Kremlin. While the EU leaders tried to lobby support for Ukraine at the summit, CELAC refused to call out Russia. At the end of the summit, the leaders signed a declaration. While Nicaragua refused to assent to the document citing a reference to the Ukraine war, the declaration also did not call out Russia as the aggressor of the war.
2. EU’s attempt to reduce economic reliance on China
The increased assertiveness of China globally has led to the EU looking to decrease its economic reliance on China, shifting focus to the resource-rich LAC region. China has also made inroads into the LAC and is their second major trade partner, after the United States. Meanwhile, the EU also has a strong economic presence in Latin America and the Caribbean as their biggest investor.
At the summit, von der Leyen promised GBP 45 billion for the EU’s Global Gateway Program for infrastructural development in the LAC region. The Global Gateway Program has been touted as the counterplan to China’s Belt and Road initiative. While the EU made commitments, CELAC stressed that projects would be based on a mutually beneficial transaction, refusing to be used as a source for the exploitation of raw materials. Alberto Fernández, Argentina's President expressed happiness at the discussion, saying: “This was the first time that we had the opportunity to discuss in such clear terms a mechanism that would take us away from extractivism in Latin America.” However, there were no breakthroughs on the stalled EU-Mercosur trade deal, although leaders agreed to finalize it soon.
3. The focus on slave trade and the colonial history
Dialogue on the historical transatlantic slave trade and Europe’s past as a colonizer was a priority for leaders of the CELAC. Gonsalves called for talks on reparations for the colonization and enslavement in the LAC region, stating: “Resources from the slave trade and from slavery helped to fuel the industrial revolution that has laid the basis for a lot of the wealth within Western Europe.” He also pointed to the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, France, and Britain as the “main colonial powers.”
EU leaders at the summit agreed to their colonial past and the profits that Europe reaped from this exploitation. Furthermore, this was included in the final declaration that read: “We acknowledge and profoundly regret the untold suffering inflicted on millions of men, women and children as a result of the transatlantic slave trade” although it did not bind Europe to making reparations to the LAC states.