As the summit of 60 Latin American, Caribbean and EU countries started in Vienna, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations spoke to EuroNews.
Initially intended to improve trade alliances
between the EU and the region, the summit comes at a time of growing divisions within South America over free trade and was expected to be dominated by concerns over Bolivia’s decision to nationalise its gas sector.
Commissioner, welcome to EuroNews. The Vienna Summit this week is particularly important because of the tensions that exist between some Latin America countries and some European countries. What can be done about these tensions?
First of all, Latin America has a great potential and with each summit we try to develop that potential even more.
Now for example we have said that we want to reinforce the political dialogue, but also during the Vienna Summit we want to talk, in a very open way about 12 very important subjects.
Among them are: social cohesion, the question of regional integration, multilateralism, the fight against drugs and the fight against terrorism.
You said there are 12 points, among them social cohesion, multilateralism and the fight against drugs. The kind of “populism” being promoted by some leaders in the region is a problem of social cohesion. The EU has had to make compromises in the fight against drugs and not only in Latin America. And there is multilateralism, especially concerning relations with the United States. Frankly do you think that all the differences on these issues can be solved at this summit?
I think that the answer is yes, at least in general terms. For example, democracy, which concerns us very much and which is absolutely fundamental. Latin America has made advances in democratic terms and, although there are some governments that are more populist, they all remain within a democratic framework and that is most important.
But are you concerned about what is happening with some Andean countries? I mean particularly the position taken say by Venezuela with nationalisations.
We want to listen and, indeed, as I already said, democracy is for us very important. Democracy can take various forms. What we want is to see how we can tackle certain subjects and find solutions. Of course we want to find out what President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and also what President
Evo Morales of Bolivia are thinking of doing with the nationalisations that they’re starting. Nationalisation is a sovereign right of every country, but investors can lose confidence and that lack of confidence can end up as a problem for the country. Undoubtedly, all that will be put on the table and discussed at the various meetings.
It’s impossible to talk about Latin America without also talking about the United States. How do you see the future? Is Europe going to be co-operating or competing with the United States in Latin America?
On one hand, we co-operate with the United States on lots of issues and on the other we try to work very closely and to cooperate with Latin American countries, working with the various possibilities that bi-regional relationships offer us.
In fact, that’s how we operated with the Andean Pact. Afterwards, of course, things also depend on the different countries there. They are either ready or they’re not. We are open, but everything depends on them.
For the European Union, Brazil is politically stable, but there are commercial and economic issues. For example tensions over agriculture.
We’ve already seen how Brazil’s President Lula and President Néstor Kirchner of Argentina had talks recently with President Morales (at their emergency energy summit) and I think that this dialogue can continue in Vienna. That seems to me to be fundamental and very good and positive. We defend our interests, but in same time we wants to move towards more services, more liberalisation of industrial products, more liberalisation of our agricultural produce by reducing subsidies.
But that has to be done within the framework of negotiations with the South American trading bloc, Mercosur, and at same time in the Doha round of World Trade Organisation negotiations.