European Latin American cooperation in Lisbon

Molly writes from Lisbon, where she is attending the annual Eurolat meeting – the European Latin American cooperation – in which parliamentarians from Europe and South America meet.

Molly standing by a stone copy of the Lisbon Treaty.
Molly standing by a stone copy of the Lisbon Treaty.

Every MEP has a place on a delegation to a different region of the world and mine is to Latin America so I’ve become a member of Eurolat. This year we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of Eurolat and our meeting was held in Lisbon where I was pleased to be welcomed by Parliamentary colleagues including Elisa Ferreira, who I had the pleasure to welcome to London when she came on a site visit with the Tax committee last year.

Although the focus of Eurolat is cooperation between Europe and Latin America it also gives us the chance to visit our European neighbours and learn more about their culture and politics. Portugal has suffered badly as a result of the Eurozone crisis but now has a left-wing coalition government whose Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, welcomed us to the national assembly building where our conference was held. Like several other European countries, Portugal has lost confidence in its centrist politicians who did nothing to protect the people against the worst effects of a financial crisis they have not caused. The result is a polarisation between right and left and a weakening of the centre ground of politics. For some this is expressed in anti-European feeling, although the majority of Portuguese people still believe their future lies with the EU and the euro.

Lisbon Street scene with Portuguese Greens sign.

Lisbon played host to delegates from Latin America’s three regional parliaments: the Central American Parliament; Parlasur, the Parliament of the Mercosur trading bloc; and the Andean Parliament. We had delegates from most Latin American countries including Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Mexico.

The informal conversations and relationships are vital part of what we achieve in these meetings. Prime Minister Costa underlined the importance of elected representatives working together globally to protect environments and social and human rights that are often overlooked by national governments. They also allow us to explore shared concerns and potential conflicts in an informal atmosphere that facilitates finding shared solutions.

As Greens we had some significant policy successes through building alliances with our sister parties in Latin America. We introduced the topic of the need for a UN-sponsored process to enable countries to go through an orderly default when their debts become unpayable. This began with the support of the Argentinian ambassador in Brussels and, although there has been a change of government and policy in Buenos Aires, they are still pursuing this course. We hope that this may eventually make a contribution of global significance to the fraud issue of over indebted countries and the high social costs this brings in its wake.

Molly chairing the Economics Committee of Eurolat
Molly chairing the Economics Committee of Eurolat.

We also finalised a paper which has been under debate for several years on the topic of fracking. A report that began with the EPP (right-wing, pro-business) group in the European Parliament has been greatly improved based on a number of amendments and in a process supported by Friends of the Earth in Brussels and Brazil. While Argentina is keen to pay down its debts by exploiting its shale gas, its neighbour Brazil is deeply concerned about the potential environmental impacts. These concerns are supported by indigenous representatives from Ecuador and Bolivia whose countries are now committed to the fundamental defence of mother Earth. Although we narrowly failed to include the call for a moratorium until the safety of fracking could be proved, we still felt able to support a report which expressed strong concerns about the environmental and health impacts of fracking.

The conference also discussed the issue of food security, which was brought to us by Latin American delegates. There were two specific proposals: one for food reserves to be held in Latin American countries with food released into markets at times of high global prices; the other to provide support for the model of farming based on family farms and present livelihoods. I was able to add into the mix the need to control speculation on food prices via the creation of food-based derivatives, something Greens have already been working on in the European Parliament for several years. I will now be taking this report forward together with the President of the Central American Parliament, Jose Antonio Alvarado Correa.

Each Eurolat meeting produces a final communique from the co-chairs of the two delegations. We were rather disappointed in the statement this time. The original strong condemnation of tax evasion with a specific mention of the Panama Papers was voted down by the Central American delegates who claim they are no more guilty in this regard than European countries. However there was considerable consolation in the fact that the statement included my proposal for expressing support for a legally binding legal instrument for multinational corporations with respect to human rights, a proposal first made by Ecuador’s permanent representative to the UN Maria Fernanda Espinosa.