Expectations for strengthening cooperation between the EU and the Latin American and Caribbean region have been boosted after a complex period of the COVID-19 pandemic and a necessary economic recovery in both regions. In a geopolitical context of war in Ukraine, that restates the importance of counting on Europe's strategic allies, the Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU during the second half of 2023 will seek to consolidate far-reaching initiatives with the Global Gateway and crystallise the already strategic partnership with CELAC. Undoubtedly, the bi-regional relationship is historically complex, although, in the field of science and research, cooperation has been kept apart from antagonistic political positions. This dialogue has been continuous and supported by cooperation actions, even in times of the pandemic. The eighth Meeting of the CELAC-EU Joint Initiative on Research and Innovation (JIRI) in October 2020 was proof of the importance of this mechanism for both regions.

With more than a decade of existence, the JIRI is an initiative launched during the CELAC-EU Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Madrid in 2010 and endorsed at the 2015 Summit. This mechanism focuses on science, research and innovation as foundations for the construction of the CELAC-EU Common Research Area (CRA). It has brought together high-level representatives from both regions on eight occasions to give substance and meaning to this cooperation. Furthermore, during its last meeting, under the CELAC PPT of Mexico and the European Commission (EC), the Strategic Roadmap 2021-2023 for the implementation of the Brussels Declaration and the CELAC-EU Action Plan on Science, Technology and Innovation was approved. This is a consensus document that contributes to the consolidation of the four pillars of cooperation, namely: research infrastructures, researcher mobility, global challenges and innovation.

Two elements, in particular, characterise the elaboration of this plan. Firstly, in addition to having been defined in a context where it was complex to make projections on researcher mobility, for example, this plan was jointly developed on the basis of various thematic meetings and bi-regional preparatory working groups. This facilitated an exchange on the problems that each CELAC and EU member country identified in terms of scientific cooperation, as well as the needs that arise for each pillar of the CRA. On previous occasions, some countries in the region had pointed to a vision of cooperation that was too focused on a European reading of the Latin American and Caribbean reality, and the agreements did not always reflect the complexity and variable geometry that characterises the region vis-à-vis the EU's scientific integration. We can thus speak of a maturity achieved in this area of collaboration as it is a strategy that has been broadly agreed ex-ante, reflecting more accurately this diversity of positions.

Secondly, once presented during the JIRI, this document was submitted for the first time for approval within the European institutions, which culminated in the final adoption by the Council of the European Union in 2021. While the joint declarations that had accompanied the CELAC-EU dialogue in previous meetings politically supported the initiatives and actions planned in the framework of this cooperation, the Council's approval further strengthens the political commitment of the parties. The fact is that if today the CELAC-EU dialogue is highly structured, it is also due to the support that the JIRI has received through several projects funded directly by the EU, such as ALCUENeT (2012-17), ERANet-LAC (2013-17) and EU-LAC Health (2012-17), to name a few clear examples of the European commitment to consolidate this cooperation.

Today we could ask ourselves about the progress made in the implementation of the plan and what has been promoted on the basis of the agreements. A review of the actions carried out over the last two years is undoubtedly necessary. This follow-up work requires an exercise similar to the one that led to its elaboration: it implies the need to convene bi-regional working groups for each pillar of the CRA to present joint actions, for example, the results achieved in terms of research infrastructures through the EU-funded ResInfra programme. Such an opportunity is offered, for example, by the upcoming Knowledge Forum organised by the EU-LAC Foundation, taking place on 24-25 April. It is also worth asking how the forms of scientific cooperation have or have not changed since COVID-19. The effects are not only seen in terms of negative externalities; new opportunities opened up in previously more conservative sectors such as pharmaceuticals, as well as access to scientific data and publications never seen before at the international level, which contributed to a global understanding of the pandemic.   

This exercise of reviewing the implementation of the Roadmap could be a contribution for a Meeting of High Representatives in the framework of the Summit of Heads of State and Government CELAC-EU in Brussels in July 2023. We must therefore ask ourselves, above all, about the mechanisms for monitoring the agreements reached. What kind of "regular" review and follow-up mechanisms could be implemented, which would allow a certain flexibility (due to their technical nature) to identify difficulties, opportunities and ongoing initiatives with bi-regional potential? Undoubtedly, review work is being carried out at the sub-regional level, while at the same time, there are far-reaching initiatives such as, for example, those promoted by the EC with regard to the local manufacture of vaccines, medicines and other health technologies that contribute to the JIRI agreements in this area. Generating a common space for frequent meetings where these elements are presented is essential to keep the research and innovation cooperation agenda up to date.

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