The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, delivered a speech at the formal sitting of the EuroLat Parliamentary Assembly marking the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome.
President Tajani’s speech (check against delivery):
Mr President of the European component of EuroLat,
Mr President of the Latin American component of EuroLat,
I should first like to say to our Latin American friends that, by meeting here in Italy to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, we are sending out a strong political message to Latin America.
We are further underlining Italy’s keen awareness of and interest in your continent. We are also further underlining the age-old cultural, social, economic and human ties between Italy and so many Latin American and Caribbean countries.
It is my great pleasure to be with you again at a meeting of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly.
Since the last meeting, in Montevideo, I have been elected President of the European Parliament.
I can assure you that this does not mean my involvement with Latin America and the Caribbean will end. Quite the opposite.
I will use my appointment to lend even greater importance and visibility to that region, to our relationship, and to emphasise the fact that we – as Europeans and Latin Americans – need to take our cooperation to a new level.
I will seek to ensure Europe’s leaders achieve tangible progress and respond to the concerns of our citizens regarding youth matters, education, employment, terrorism and climate change.
After decades of looking eastwards, Europe is now drawing closer to Latin America. Political dialogue and economic, trade and industrial cooperation have been growing stronger. But we can still do more.
We cannot leave Latin America to China or Russia, who are stepping up their activities in the region.
China’s influence in Latin America is steadily growing. In 2016, China granted loans worth USD 21 billion, which was more than the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank put together.
Latin America is at an important juncture in its history, and in this connection I would point to the economic growth and progress made in a number of Latin American countries, as reflected in social indicators – countries such as Panama and the Dominican Republic in Central America, and Peru and Paraguay in South America. Then there is the opening-up of Cuba, the peace process in Colombia, the strengthening of institutions, democracy, legal certainty and free elections, and grass-roots movements such as the one in Venezuela.
We must react positively to these changes. Because while it is true that we face common challenges, there are also opportunities that we can seize together.
Trade agreements (Mercosur, Mexico, Chile, Central America)
On the trade front, our aim is to reach a political agreement this year in the negotiations with the Mercosur bloc.
We have been negotiating for decades, and the time is now ripe for an agreement and we cannot let this opportunity go to waste. This agreement is of major geopolitical importance and will be of benefit to both parties.
I also believe that it will spur the continent towards further integration so that it moves from being a collection of blocs (Mercosur, Unasur, the Andean Community, the Pacific Alliance) to one single bloc.
We have great expectations for the negotiations on updating the agreement with Mexico, and hope to conclude them this year.
This will be a progressive agreement that abolishes customs duties and covers new areas such as sustainable development and the closer involvement of civil society.
We also hope to open negotiations as soon as possible on updating the agreement with Chile.
We would like the agreement also to cover small businesses, gender equality, sustainable development and action to combat corruption.
The Association Agreement with Central America must be ratified by all Member States if its full potential is to be harnessed.
Peace process in Colombia
The EU consistently supported the efforts to achieve a negotiated peace in Colombia, right from the start of the process. That support will continue in the post-conflict phase, through the provision of technical and financial assistance.
This is a historic opportunity for Colombia. Although many challenges lie ahead, I firmly believe that investing in peace is the best option for Colombia, for the region, and for the world.
Let us not forget that this was the longest-lasting conflict on the continent, one that went on for over 50 years. It was a bit of an anomaly, as all the other recent conflicts in Latin America ended in the 1990s.
I am sure that peace will bring with it growth and employment opportunities for Colombia, thanks to foreign investment.
Political dialogue and cooperation with Cuba
The European Union will also implement an Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation with Cuba, which the European Parliament is soon to ratify.
Cuba is undergoing radical economic and social modernisation, and we are providing support for this process.
It is important for us that the Agreement should help to strengthen democracy, human rights and labour rights, and, above all, to establish a framework of legal certainty. Because without legal certainty there will be no investment.
It is also essential to have a free and independent media in order to protect and promote democracy. As a former journalist, I wish to express Parliament’s concern at the murders of journalists that occurred in Mexico last week.
Situation in Venezuela
One cannot mention respect for democracy and human rights without talking about Venezuela. The EU is deeply saddened by the situation in that country.
The political crisis in Venezuela has turned into a social, economic and humanitarian crisis. Recently, the violence has escalated and left many people dead or injured. We have work together to resolve this situation.
Over the past decades, all Latin American countries have made progress and become more democratic, so we are sad to see Venezuela moving in the opposite direction.
The rule of law, human rights, the principle of the separation of powers, freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate must be upheld. And all political prisoners must be released.
We stand with the people of Venezuela and call on all international organisations to help end this humanitarian and political crisis.
We must not forget that Venezuela is home to 600 000 Europeans, whose safety and well-being is our concern.
At the same time, there are 700 000 Venezuelans living in Europe, and they are looking to the European Union to act. I wish to welcome the Venezuelans who are here with us today.
The need for economic diplomacy
I firmly believe that we need a form of European economic diplomacy that goes beyond mere trade considerations, and includes dialogue and practical measures to provide support to our businesses.
In this connection, I would draw attention to the expansion of the Panama Canal carried out recently by a consortium of European firms.
That project will have an extremely positive knock-on effect on the entire region, not least by stimulating the development of port facilities in other countries.
Then there is also the underwater fibre-optic cable laid by a Spanish-Brazilian consortium and providing a direct link between Brazil and Spain without having to go through the United States.
We need to cooperate in a wide range of areas, from tourism, small businesses; industry, agribusiness and the digital agenda to raw materials, space, female entrepreneurship, research and development, and education.
Alongside our efforts on the economic front, we also need to do what we can to foster cultural exchanges and visits to friends and relatives.
We all know how many Latin Americans come to Europe to study. This is why I believe visa waiver agreements between the EU and Latin American countries to be such a positive thing, as they help to strengthen our ties still further.
We also need to cooperate in combating organised crime and cybercrime and on security, tax transparency and combating corruption.
And we need to step up our efforts and make sure we speak with a single voice in action to combat climate change. The drying‑up of lakes in Guatemala, the fires in Chile and the torrential rains and flooding caused by the El Niño phenomenon in Peru clearly show that global warming is something we cannot afford to ignore.
Inclusive growth and the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals form part of our joint agenda.
And what we now need is a clear political impetus.
I have therefore decided that during my term of office I will invite Latin American heads of state to address the European Parliament. The aim is to send out, both within and outside the European Union, a strong message on the importance of relations with Latin America.
As part of this process, the President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, will be addressing Parliament in Strasbourg in June this year.
I am also keen to forge closer ties between Parliament and multilateral organisations, in particular the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB).
Soon after taking office, I held talks with the secretaries-general of the two organisations, Mr Almagro and Ms Grynspan, on how we might cooperate more closely.
I shall be passing on these messages at the next CELAC-EU Summit, to be held in El Salvador towards the end of the year.
The political impetus I was talking about can be provided through the parliamentary diplomacy which you embody, and in this connection I should like to commend the two co-presidents of this assembly, Ramón Jáuregui and Roberto Requiao, as well as all of its members, for the invaluable work they perform.
I was a member myself for two and a half years, during which time I took part in debates, tabled amendments and submitted a report. I know just how useful your work is. So thank you.
In view of our history, our culture, our shared values, our languages, our family ties and our religion, we are obliged to ask ourselves: just who, other than Latin America and the Caribbean, should we be looking to for closer ties?
And the simple answer to that question is that there is no one else, anywhere in the world.
Our strategic partnership has been in place since 1999. In view of the major changes facing us, I should like to see the European Commission draw up a new strategic partnership with Latin America and the Caribbean.
A broader, more modern, more ambitious partnership. A partnership that faithfully reflects our close relationship.
You can count on my full support. Mr Jáuregui, you know that my door is always open.
Copyright European Union, 1995-2017
SOURCE: European Parliament/The President
Photo credit: © European Union 2017 – European Parliament