MADRID, Spain – Leaders attending the European Union-Latin America and Caribbean Summit in Madrid this week created the EU-LAC Foundation to strengthen the relationship between the regions after it was initially discussed two years earlier.
Officials from all 27 members of the European Union and representatives from 33 nations in Latin America and the Caribbean took a major step to bring to fruition what had been proposed at the regions’ previous summit in Peru in 2008.
The foundation still is in its early stages, but this much is clear: It’s to-be-named executive director will have a four-year term and it will provide seminars, lectures, classes, presentations and the coordination of events aimed at engaging civil society, according to José Manuel Durão Barroso, president of the European Commission.
But it’s unknown where the foundation will be headquartered.
“Our intention is for civil society to become involved in this institution,” said Durão Barroso, who described the initiative as “fundamental to the development of our collaborative partnerships.”
The summit also resulted in the creation of a free trade agreement with fewer tariff barriers among the 27 European members and the Central American bloc comprised of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.
The agreement, which was signed on May 19, is expected to increase commerce in the industrial and agricultural sectors. Central American countries will have fewer tariff barriers on beef, rice and plantains, while European countries will have free access to the automotive market for 10 years, officials said.
Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said the event “has been a summit of success” and the participants are “satisfied” with the agreements.
“The capacity for economic growth and, consequently, social policies, relies upon openness, upon liberalization and not on borders,” he said. “In these global times, political agreements need to favor democracy, the rule of law, judicial security and human rights.”
But not all heads of state from the 60 countries invited to the summit were in Madrid.
David Cameron, Britain’s recently elected prime minister, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi missed the event. French president Nicolas Sarkozy arrived late, missing the group photo, and German chancellor Angela Merkel just attended the gala dinner hosted by Spain’s Prince of Asturias on May 17.
Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Cuba’s Raúl Castro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega didn’t attend the summit and Honduran President Porfirio Lobo only was present during the sub-regional meeting between the EU and Central American countries to sign the first free trade agreement between the blocs on May 19. Lobo turned down the invitation to attend the EU-Latin America and Caribbean Summit because several Latin American presidents said they would boycott the event if Lobo was present, as they do not recognize his administration.
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe received the Inter-Economy Award for “The Most Outstanding Latin American Leader of the Decade” and continued his legacy by signing the Colombia-Peru-EU free trade agreement (FTA).
Uribe said he expects the free trade agreement to spur a 0.5% increase in Colombia’s gross national product, according to the Colombian daily El Tiempo. “It is a great opportunity for Colombia,” Uribe said.
Uribe said the agreement to create a foundation could have wide-ranging benefits.
“[There’s been] a new globalization characterized by the defense of human rights, effective protection of workers and the requirement of strict observance of environmental norms,” he said at the summit.