The EU and the Americas: Partners Across the Wider Atlantic

Both the United States and the European Union (EU) have strong political, economic and cultural ties with Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). And both engage in regular and institutionalized talks with the leaders from the LAC region. But there is no trilateral forum where all three sides can discuss ways to enhance engagement across the transatlantic corridor in the broader sense.

This is the reason why we organized the EU-Americas Miami conference on November 15–16 2018. Officials and stakeholders from Europe, the U.S., and the LAC region came together with the objective of increasing cooperation in areas like climate action, disaster preparedness, emergency response, election integrity, human rights, trade and investment.

Why Miami? Because South Florida is the U.S. gateway to the LAC region, and also faces challenges of rising sea levels, changing weather conditions, and natural disasters.

“I am a survivor of 105 days without electricity”, Carmelo Ríos Santiago

The EU-Americas Miami conference first discussed cooperation in the areas of disaster preparedness, emergency response, and resilience.

Margarita Wells, Environment & Sustainability Assistant Director, City of Miami Beach.

Several speakers from South Florida and the Caribbean stressed the vulnerability of their region to extreme weather conditions and natural hazards that are amplified by global warming. Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said that “climate change is not a risk factor, it is a constant.” Margarita Wells, who works on sustainability for the city of Miami Beach, described the city as an “inherently vulnerable community,” a “barrier island in the hurricane corridor.

From left to right: Omar Abou-Samra, Director of Preparedness, American Red Cross; Carmelo Ríos Santiago, President, National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and Majority Leader, Puerto Rico Senate; Frank Rollason, Director of the Office of Emergency Management, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department; Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald.

A corridor that also includes the Carribean. French Consul General Clément Leclerc stated that “the observed conditions make it statistically more likely that extreme weather and hurricanes will occur in Florida and the Caribbean.” The devastation caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria in Saint Martin, Sint Maarten, Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean was unprecedented. Carmelo Ríos Santiago, Majority Leader of the Senate of Puerto Rico, agreed and said that the island “had experienced many hurricanes before, but nothing like Hurricane Maria, which led to chaos on the island. The Palominito isle is now below the level of the water.” He added that he himself was “a survivor of 105 days without electricity.

So, how do we tackle climate and environmental challenges collectively? Miami Beach representatives explained how the city supports climate adaptation and resilience, including investing half a billion dollars in water pumps to reduce the risk of flooding in this area, which is barely above the sea level. The city also partners with the Dutch government and the 100 Resilient Cities network to share insights on how to adapt to global warming. Other speakers highlighted the importance of mitigating risks of natural disasters in the LAC region by setting up insurance risk pulling mechanisms across multiple countries (like CCRIF), investing in more resilient buildings and upgrading building codes, taking preparedness actions and adopting evacuation plans, and offering green bonds with low interest rates for resilient investments.

The European Commissioner for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, Christos Stylianides, monitoring hurricane Irma at the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Center.

The EU itself is funding programs to support green financing, sustainable reconstruction and disaster response in the LAC region. But the conference also featured how the EU’s Earth Observation Program Copernicus helps with predicting the path of hurricanes, anticipating natural disasters and assisting first responders in relation to hurricanes, flooding, pollution and wild fires. The Copernicus Emergency Management Service was recently mobilized for hurricanes Irma, Maria, Florence; tropical storm Willa in Mexico; tropical cyclone Mangkhut in Guam; and floods in Honduras and Nicaragua.

Standing up for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law

The conference then addressed the current state of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the LAC region. Edita Hrdá, Managing Director for the Americas at the European External Action Service, explained how the EU conducts electoral missions in the region and includes democratic clauses in trade agreements. Edita Hrdá also announced the upcoming EU Communication on the future relationship with the LAC region, in which reinforcing and reforming effective multilateralism will be a major leitmotif.

From left to right: Paulo Abrão, Executive Secretary, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Organization of American States (OAS); Mercedes García Pérez, Political Counselor, Embassy of Spain to the U.S.

Some speakers raised concerns regarding recent trends in the area of corruption, trust in democracy and commitment to human rights in the LAC region. Katya Rimkunas, regional deputy director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Republican Institute (IRI), explained that vulnerability to crime and violence in several LAC countries creates disaffection with democracy and growing anger towards the political establishment. IRI assists local civil society actors in increasing the transparency of electoral processes and promoting access to elections for minority & marginalized groups.

Trevor Munroe from Jamaica’s National Integrity Action stressed the need to tackle the challenge of corruption which creates mistrust in government and judicial bodies. Paulo Abrão, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, expressed “very serious concerns” in relation to recent “grave violations of human rights” observed in the LAC region.

Edita Hrdá, Managing Director for the Americas, European External Action Service.

At the same time, Edita Hrdá reminded that “looking at it from an historical perspective the trend is clear: we have seen the gradual achievement of democratic principles, better electoral processes and increased respect for human rights and the rule of lawin the Americas. The broader transatlantic community shares a large set of values. This being said, she added that “events unfolding in Venezuela and Nicaragua are very concerning. They are not only causing suffering for the peoples of these countries and instability for the neighboring regions. They are also a direct threat to the values we hold dear.” This is why the EU adopted sanctions against Venezuela.

A Progressive Trade Policy Agenda

The conference ended with discussions on recent trends in trade policy, and the active role the EU has played in pushing for a modernization of the multilateral trading system and progressive trade agreements with the Americas.

David O’Sullivan, Ambassador of the European Union to the U.S.

The EU is currently in trade talks with Mexico, Chile and the Mercosur, and has an extensive web of 26 trade and economic agreements with the LAC region, including the recent Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) ratified by the EU and Canada. The Ambassador of the EU to the U.S., David O’Sullivan, also said that the EU was open to negotiating a mutually-beneficial trade deal with the U.S. on industrial products.

The chief Mexican negotiator for the NAFTA / USMCA, Kenneth Smith Ramos, called for inclusive, sustainable and modernized trade agreements, in line with the current negotiation over therevision of the EU-Mexico trade agreement.

For more information on the conference, see the useful links below. We look forward to further advancing cooperation across the Wider Atlantic space over the years to come.

Useful links and ways to learn more:

  • Webcast of the event:

Day 1 —

Day 2 —

  • Photo Album:

  • Program of the conference:

  • Engagement on Twitter around the #EUAmericas hashtag

Many thanks to all those who’ve made this EU-Americas Miami conference possible, with special thanks to Antonio Peña (shareholder of Greenberg Traurig and President of the Inter-American Chapter of the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce) and the French Consul General in Miami Clément Leclerc.

Antonio Peña (shareholder of Greenberg Traurig and President of the Inter-American Chapter of the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce), in conversation with the Ambassador of the European Union to the United States, David O’Sullivan
Clément Leclerc, Consul General of France in Miami, acting EU Local Chair in Miami.

And thanks to South Florida for the warm welcome!