The relationship between Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean cannot be explained without introducing a context that refers to how the contemporary international order is being constructed. In order to account for this phenomenon, very schematically, we can allude to a conventional and classic vision, which prioritises identifying the distribution of capacities of the sources of international power: economic, defence or political resources; we can also evoke the image of what has been defined as globalisation and interdependence, especially the process of world interaction at the productive, financial or market levels; and also the image of international reordering that visualises a global process characterised by the dispersion of political resources across the planet, as well as the increasingly accentuated limits of the hegemonic capacities that national states had in the 19th and 20th centuries: the image of No one’s World (Kupchan, 2014)[1].

If the conventional image that looks at the international order as a scenario of asymmetric distribution of capabilities is the lens through which we observe the Euro-Latin American and Caribbean relationship, then the 'rational' vision in strategic terms would imply the necessity to visualise an inter-regional partnership that can moderate the implications of global competition between the US and China. A bi-polar world, even if only in economic terms, would be inconvenient for the interests of countries south of the Rio Grande and for Europe. The Cold War, at least for Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, limited their development possibilities and dramatically affected the development of democratic institutions and the exercise of minimum freedoms in the countries of the region.

The characterisation of the world as a field of dispute between hegemonic powers conceals the presence of societies where two thirds of the world's population live and perpetuates, in the international image, the idea of the irrelevance of their nations. The distribution of military and economic capabilities in the international order, which is the focus of this type of approach, does not allow for the integration into the analysis of the complexity of social dynamics that constitute the scenarios of precisely those nations that are identified as "central". The common agenda of Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, which is very intense, and which in issues such as economic exchange, human mobility and knowledge exchange shapes the current development of their societies, simply cannot be submerged by this vision of the international order. Even so, this perception would characterise their rapprochement as vital for the countries of the two regions to project themselves in an international order that is reconfiguring itself and leaving behind the hierarchies built after the Second World War.

A second image, that of globalisation as a characteristic of the current international system, which politically has been expressed in the drive to open up national societies to world markets, in the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, implied the modification of development models that sought productive autonomy, generated in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The insertion of most of the region's countries into globalisation involved the search for comparative advantages in the export of primary goods and services such as tourism. The productive matrix of these countries was concentrated on exports. The cases of success or failure were heterogeneous, but the vulnerabilities were common. The financial crisis of 2008 put an end to a small cycle of growth, especially in the South American economies, and the contraction of international markets, intensified by the Pandemic of the years 20 and 21 in the XXI century, reversed all the dynamics of expansion and poverty neutralisation of the first decade. These two phenomena have highlighted the vulnerability of Latin American and Caribbean economies in the global context. The consequences in terms of social indicators, especially those referring to social equality, equity and access, as well as poverty, are very strong in comparison with other regions of the world.

The idea of globalisation to describe the international order, and within it, the relations between Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe, convenes the idea of interdependencies to account for the type of interactions that are established between societies and nations. This type of interdependence is not normally symmetrical, as societies are not identical in terms of resources, and it is generally always complex, as more than one issue characterises these relations. The asymmetries in the relationship between the two regions, however, have a series of mediations that mitigate their impact, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. We could mention three conditions.

Firstly, the Euro-Latin American and Caribbean agenda never placed defence and "national security" issues at the centre of its priorities; rather, this disregard was replaced, in discourse, by an emphasis on issues of democracy and social cohesion, which allowed several countries of the European Union to play a leading role, in a positive logic, in the transitions from military authoritarianism to governments with electoral legitimacy in South America, and the deployment of the pacification processes that put an end to the Central American civil wars. Secondly, the repertoire of policies and funds for international cooperation of the EU and several of its countries were, and in some cases continue to be, very important in containing scenarios of extreme poverty and poverty in the region. The projection of European foreign policy has been explicitly built around development cooperation, support for social cohesion and clean environment policies, and political dialogue in crises. This is an agenda that still characterises relations with Latin America and the Caribbean in EU documents. And thirdly, the high level of direct investment by European countries and companies in the region maintains a lively and important presence in economic affairs. The most usual instrument of the relationship has been the association agreements with sub-regional integration bodies or with countries in a bi-lateral logic.

This does not mean, however, that bi-regional relations do not still have many issues to be resolved with diverse visions, especially in terms of the dynamics of trade protection or intellectual property that unfold in both regions, but the idea that this way of looking at international society puts forward is that there has been a process of building regulations and generally harmonious relations that moderate the asymmetry, especially if we compare the relations of Latin American and Caribbean countries with other important extra-regional presences in the region's economy and politics.

A third image of the international order, that of the "No One's World", which assumes the gradual dilution of the centres of gravity and influence that have characterised modernity since the emergence of the international system, and which implies that the trends that can be observed with the emergence of the economies of the Indo-Pacific world and Eurasia are, to some extent, irreversible in the region in the foreseeable future would place the relationship between Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean in the necessity to reaffirm the common themes that identify their historical affinities, as a point of affirmation of their relevance in the new international system. Beyond the economic complementarities that are expressed in a myriad of bilateral and regional trade relations on both sides of the ocean, there are common bi-regional conceptions that underpin the legitimacy of national societies: democracy (and social democratisation) as a desirable political order, a stable regime that guarantees human rights, or multilateralism as an instrument of international relations, for example.

If the world of the immediate future is going to be diverse, plural and fragmented in terms of economic regimes, centres of power and societal models, then the encounter between the two regions, whose affinities with each other are much greater than those that might exist with others, would build a base of material and symbolic interests that in the medium and long term would strengthen their global presence, in a more powerful logic than that of the search for hegemonic power blocs that characterised international politics in the previous two centuries.

[1] Charles Kupchan (2012, No One's World. The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn, Oxford University Press), argues that the changing international order is characterised by the dispersion of power of international actors, including states, rather than by a transition that sees one power ceding power to another, as in the Modernity of the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. It is multiple modernities rather than bi- or multi-polar distributions of power that characterise the international system.

*This text expresses the personal views of the author and does not commit the institution.

For any press inquiries please contact: