The European Union-Mercosur Agreement will not see the light of day
Negotiated for over 20 years, ambitious in its time, and aimed at establishing a political relationship based on free trade, the agreement of association between the European Union and the Mercosur no longer meets current expectations. It is difficult to imagine how it could be implemented and ratified by parliaments.
The world has changed. Europe, shaken by Brexit and made fragile by Covid, but strengthened by the Russian war in Ukraine, is no longer the same. Moreover, the Paris Agreement on climate change adopted in 2015 has emerged as a milestone of the 21st century. European and Latin American negotiators can no longer ignore it.
South America has also changed. In a tottering globalization, it is being shaken by tectonic shifts that are bringing it closer to China, which has aspirations to lead an emerging "global South." At the same time, it is distancing itself from the United States, which has become more inward-looking—a significant shift after centuries of "gringo" interventionism. In this context, Latin American governments do not see the European integration system as a model. The already historical European alternative has lost its aura due to turbulent electoral processes that, on both sides of the Atlantic, leave more and more room for demagogues and populists. The sociological and cultural reference is becoming less relevant, with an aging Europe and a younger Latin America. For most Latin American politicians, both men and women, an approach would be perceived as an alignment.
However, America and Europe have a mutual need for each other. If for nothing else, because in each of the two continents, more than five million refugees are fleeing war or deprivation from situations of unimaginable indignity in the last few years. Both Europe and Latin America have a common foundation of values that prioritize individual freedom and respect for human dignity, which sets them apart. The European and Latin American human rights systems guarantee the universality of these fundamental rights and should be the foundation of their relationship. Essentially, our countries share a singular responsibility: first, with regards to their peoples, and second, in favor of a freer world based on the rule of law.
During his recent visit to Europe and on the eve of new consultations in Brussels between the European Union and the Latin American bloc, President Lula of Brazil, made it clear that the environmental expectations of the EU, championed in particular by Emmanuel Macron, were unacceptable.
Always proactive, France has taken the lead, risking being accused of protectionism. The reality is somewhat different: while it is true that French farmers fear competition from the rest of the world, it is because Europe is a very open market that has signed agreements with numerous countries and groups of countries. European countries are not afraid of competition but rather of excessive competition under conditions that leave them vulnerable if all producers do not adhere to the same rules. A cheerful globalization must be based on the respect for the same rules by all. The weakening of the World Trade Organization reveals its inability to enforce these rules. It is unthinkable for European companies, and rightly so, to be forced not to directly or indirectly participate in the deforestation of major tropical basins - essential for climate and biodiversity - while others offer products resulting from this same deforestation to consumers in the 27 member states.
The agriculture/climate equation, apparently unyielding, seems to crystallize opposition to the agreement between the European Union and the Mercosur. However, everything is negotiable. The truth is that this part of the agreement is just the tip of the iceberg: there are many resistances expressed on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, Argentinian and Brazilian industrialists, to name just one case, have never hidden their lack of interest in this agreement, which directly threatens them. At a time when Lula - who also faces an opposition-controlled Parliament – is announcing a vast reindustrialization operation, he will not subject his country's companies to the pressure of an onslaught of European products. French farmers have broad support: behind them, all the opponents of the agreement are lurking. The sum of these oppositions is currently stronger than the advantages, however real, of such an association between the two blocs. Regardless of its merits, the agreement no longer meets the expectations placed upon it.
In a divided, exacerbated world, shaken by influence peddling, and having lost its commercial references, it is time to reinvent international partnerships to meet the needs of our time and, above all, resist the temptation to close ourselves off and retreat. Protecting the planet, changing energy paradigms, guaranteeing the universality of human rights, integrating the digitalization of economies, creating a new participatory multilateralism that includes civil society... The list of challenges imposed upon us is long. Let us not waste time with a draft agreement that takes us back to the 20th century and highlights what divides us. Let us recreate the political ties that will enable our two continents to be the democratic driving forces of a new, more equitably distributed green prosperity, as demanded by the global urgency of climate change. And besides, how can we imagine an agreement between our two regions that does not take into account the demographic and economic growth of Africa, which in the future will necessarily be the link between America and Europe?
Pierre Henri Guignard was the French Ambassador to Argentina (2016-2019). Former Secretary-General of COP21, he is now the president of "le groupe comuni.can.do."