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Hats off to an international partnership in Panama

Submitted by on 17 Apr 2015 – 16:08

Co-President of EuroLat, Ramón Jáuregui Atondo MEP assesses the outcome of discussions between European and Latin American policymakers in Panama which took place last month.

Photo: European Union 2014

Photo: European Union 2014

Last month a delegation of fifty Members of the European Parliament paid an official visit to Panama, as part of a set of Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat) Committee meetings. At the head of the European Delegation were Antonio Tajani, Vice President of the Parliament, and myself, as European Co-President of EuroLat. On the Latin American side, the event gathered nearly half a hundred parliamentary representatives coming from almost every country in the region.

The importance of the EuroLat Panama meetings was enhanced by the political and economic circumstances on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the upcoming II EU-CELAC Heads of State and Government Summit, to be held on 10 and 11 June 2015 in Brussels. This was undoubtedly a very good opportunity to carry out joint reflections on the main challenges affecting both regions. Furthermore, this was the first meetings round of the EuroLat Assembly in the present parliamentary term.

EuroLat tasks were split into four different committees, devoted to political affairs, economic affairs, social affairs and sustainable development, respectively. Each committee’s discussions focussed in one or two working documents which had been previously drafted by the European and Latin American representatives. These documents were devoted to a wide range of issues of international concern, such as political party funding, sustainable mining and shale gas fracking, poverty in the framework of the Post-2015 Millennium Goals Agenda, the commercial agreements between Europe and Latin American countries, the impact of the TTIP on bi-regional relations, digital economy challenges and economic and financial relations between China and Latin America. The large number of representatives attending the committees resulted in high-level debates and substantial progress in every working document.

Besides the four committees, two working groups on migration and women also met in Panama and a EuroLat civil society forum was held, with the presence of the European Economic and Social Committee and several representatives from trade associations, unions and NGOs. To close the agenda, we visited the Panama Canal expansion works, where we met the representatives of the European companies involved in this important engineering project.

We intended to end this round of EuroLat meetings by approving a final statement expressing the Assembly’s common feelings on several controversial points of the international agenda. Unfortunately, reaching an agreement between the European and the Latin American sides proved to be impossible, due to the divergence of points of view concerning Venezuela. Nevertheless, the European Delegation did reach a majority position on several matters. In my role as EuroLat Co President, I summarized that position in a press statement issued at the end of the meetings.

Panama City Photo: Matthew Straubmuller, Flickr

Panama City
Photo: Matthew Straubmuller, Flickr

The least controversial point that we all agreed on was our categorical condemnation of the Tunis terrorist attack on 18th March, where 21 people died. There is no possible justification for such a barbaric act of violence. Sympathising with the victims and their families is not enough: it is high time for the international community to effectively combat terrorism. With the recent attacks in France and Denmark -as well as the dismantling of jihadist cells in Belgium and Spain still fresh in our minds, uniting our efforts to collectively defeat terror is a task which is now more urgent than ever.

With regards to Cuba, the European Delegation welcomed the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana. Most of us agreed that, after more than fifty years of tension, this was a historic step forward which should open the door to a more peaceful and mutually beneficial framework of bilateral relations. Furthermore, Europe is also following a new path in its relations with the island. Both the negotiation for an EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, started in April 2014, and the High Representative Mogherini’s official visit to Havana in March 2015, indicate a solid if cautious change in the state of affairs. Such a rapprochement should eventually improve Cuban living standards and promote democratic values and human rights, including the fundamental freedoms of speech and association.

Concerning the situation in Venezuela, the European Delegation showed deep concern over the episodes of violence registered in the country throughout the last year and appealed for tolerance between the political actors. We are convinced that respect for fundamental rights and freedoms is essential in a well-functioning, democratic society. In this regard, we urged the Venezuelan authorities to seize the opportunity of upcoming parliamentary elections in order to set out a path of political dialogue with the opposition, based on conciliation and shared responsibility. However, the first step to facilitate dialogue should be the release of all political prisoners arrested arbitrarily.

Finally, on behalf of the European Delegation, I expressed our satisfaction on the progress made in the Colombian peace process. Conversations in Havana between the government and FARC guerrilla forces gave a glimmer of hope in a country afflicted by conflict for more than fifty years. In this regard, the inclusion of the ELN guerrilla forces in the negotiations would be a further guarantee for the success of the whole process. We all hope, additionally, that the victims of such a brutal conflict may receive fair, complete and true reparations as a result of the peace process.

The next EuroLat Plenary Session is scheduled for June in Brussels, just a few days before the second EU-CELAC Summit. It is important to note that the enlarged EuroLat bureau intends to celebrate an additional meeting in Riga in May, to work on the Assembly’s political declaration which shall be subsequently delivered to the Euro-Latin American leaders during the June Summit.

Over the months ahead we have several excellent opportunities to bring Europe and Latin America closer together. The EuroLat Assembly is determined to contribute as much as possible to that aim.

 

Ramón Jáuregui Atondo is an MEP and is Co-President of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat). He sits with the Socialists and Democrats (S&Ds) in the European Parliament.