José Manuel Fernandes (Member of the European Parliament and Chairman of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with the Federative Republic of Brazil)
Lula da Silva’s victory in Brazil’s 2022 presidential elections is an opportunity for the strengthening of relations between the European Union and Latin America’s largest country. Taking advantage of the new Brazilian government taking office on January 1, 2023, as well as the unfortunate events of January 8, when protesters invaded Brazilian institutions. In this text, I propose to address what I hope and wish for the bilateral relations between the EU and Brazil in the coming years. For my part, and as Chairman of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with the Federative Republic of Brazil, I take what I write not only as analysis, but also as political commitment.
The size and importance of Brazil continues to elude most Europeans, even the main political leaders. We perpetuate a distant and incomplete vision of what Brazil actually is: a country that represents half of Latin America, both geographically and demographically; the 10th economy in the world; one of the five largest agricultural producers in the world. It is time to recognize Brazil as a global giant, and to treat it as such.
The key word must be “cooperation”. Without paternalism, by mutually recognizing potentialities and weaknesses. Cooperation must have as common ground the values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and the uncompromising defence of human dignity and human rights. Environmental sustainability and inclusion are also essential elements for the economic development we must conquer.
The founding principles and values of our democracies need to be nurtured and protected. Recent years have demonstrated on a global scale that values once taken for granted are fragile and susceptible to threats. We should see the EU-Brazil relationship as an opportunity to mutually strengthen our societies, our values and development. Competitiveness, cohesion and environmental sustainability have to be achieved simultaneously. This is the best response we can give to the antidemocratic threats that are growing in our times. Particularly, unblocking the Mercosur-EU agreement and strengthening the EU/Brazil Strategic Partnership represent two essential instruments at our disposal, which we must exploit and accelerate.
European Union – Mercosul Agreement
The European Union-Mercosur Agreement began to be negotiated at the end of the 20th century and took 20 years to be agreed. In June 2019, the parties finally reached political agreement on an ambitious, balanced and comprehensive trade compromise. However, so far, the agreement has not yet entered into force, as there is a blockade by some EU Member States, such as France or Germany, who have expressed concerns about the agreement, in particular with regard to the environment (mainly the deforestation of the Amazon) and the rights of indigenous peoples. This blockage to ratification has lasted for more than three years, and has led to alternative solutions being sought in the “backrooms” of the European Commission. In 2021, the European Commission and the European External Action Service announced that they were working on an additional instrument to accompany the agreement, which would address sustainability concerns and the potential environmental effects of the agreement, including deforestation. At the same time, it has been reported that the European Commission would be preparing a “split” of the agreement, focusing only on those matters that fall within the competence of the European Union. This solution would not require ratification by national parliaments. None of these solutions has yet been formalized or materialized. Following the invasion of Ukraine in the summer of 2022, some EU representatives approached the Brazilian government in an attempt to reactivate negotiations on the trade agreement, but still without success.
Much of the resistance to the trade agreement stems, not from sincere trade or environmental objections, but from protectionist concerns. There are also those who, during the last few years, have used the environmental argument as a political tool, to oppose President Jair Bolsonaro, thus preventing him from being able to capitalize on the agreement’s entry into force from a political standpoint. According to the most recent statements from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, there is political will to lift the blockades for political purposes, and the environmental issue remains – apparently – a controversial matter that requires greater consensus. It should be remembered that the agreement was reached in 2019, according to the environmental criteria and requirements of this time and in compliance with the Paris agreement.
Since environmental awareness and the impacts of climate change have been developing at a very fast pace, it is not correct to consider that this agreement disregards the environment and the needs of fighting climate change. Furthermore, it is necessary to attend and listen to the conditions of all those involved, starting with small and medium farmers. Too often, legal requirements are imposed on these central actors in our economies without consulting them or assessing what impact they will have on their sustainability and productive capacity. This aspect becomes even more relevant when we take into account the fact that Brazil is the largest exporter of agricultural products to the European Union, with 9% of the total in 2021. It is no wonder that in some Member States the agricultural sector is afraid and infecting their rulers. However, the excuse by some of these European rulers is deforestation in the Amazon.
The possibility of revising the Mercosur agreement is on the table. We should be careful: there are those who want to revise the agreement because they simply do not want it to come into force. They are hitching a ride with those who – genuinely – want the agreement, but want to improve it in the area of the environment and the defence of human rights. Reopening the agreement could mean its death. It is better to ratify Mercosur and move on right now to revising it, improving the thematic areas in question. Together, the Latin American region and the EU represent almost 25% of the world’s GDP and a market of 750 million people. This would be the EU’s largest trade agreement and would create one of the largest free trade areas in the world. Closeness between partners who share the same values has become an added priority in the current international geopolitical situation. We cannot throw away a historic opportunity for both sides, which took two decades to achieve. We cannot be afraid of challenges that reinforce our values, social and environmental rights, and contribute to economic growth.
EU-Brazil Strategic Partnership
The EU-Brazil strategic partnership, established in 2007, has seriously fallen short of its potential. Given that this was only the tenth strategic partnership that the EU has established, it is clear that collaboration between the parties is insufficiently exploited. In the first years of the strategic partnership, between 2007 and 2014, seven EU-Brazil summits were organized. Since 2014, no further summits have been organized. The Joint EU-Brazil Action Plan 2015-2017, referred to at the 2014 summit, has never been adopted, nor has any Joint Action Plan since. There are several fields where we should deepen our cooperation, such as the areas of science and technology. Based on the knowledge developed in Brazilian and European universities, as well as in companies and start-ups, we can contribute to the competitiveness, innovation and economic growth of our economies, responding to the main challenges we face today. I defend scientific research as a key area for cooperation, namely in forestry, health and the blue economy.
The revitalization of the Strategic Partnership depends on a greater diplomatic and political rapprochement. To this end, and in my capacity as Chair of the Delegation for Relations with the Federative Republic of Brazil, I have proposed that a delegation from the European Parliament visit Brazil in the coming months for a series of meetings with the Brazilian authorities at various levels. This visit will take place in the month of May 2023, and will be an important opportunity to strengthen parliamentary relations, to generate greater proximity, in order to collaborate in the construction of responses for our citizens. On the Brazilian side, it is expected that there will be a political will to come closer to the European Union and its “like-minded partners.” It is relevant that, in his inauguration speech, President Lula da Silva only mentioned two international partners: Europe and the United States of America. This was not a fortuitous accident, but a voluntary choice, which reveals a desire to revitalize the ties that unite us. Let us hope that the words of both parties become a reality, to the benefit of all. This is my hope, expectation and commitment for the years to come.
 Declaração conjunta da 7.ª Cimeira UE-Brasil, 24 de fevereiro de 2014 https://www.consilium.europa.eu/pt/meetings/international-summit/2014/02/24/
Picture credits: Lara Jameson on Pexels.com.