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Dear Secretary of State Moreira Franco,
Dear Deputy Director General Gaete,
Dear Head of the EU Delegation Dochao Moreno,
Dear Mrs González, from the Mercosur Consultative Forum representing Latin American civil society participating at this meeting,
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to open this 7th Meeting, which shows once again the EESC commitment to supporting Latin American civil society.
I would like to wish you all warmly welcome, especially our Latin American civil society delegates who represent here
- the Mercosur Economic and Social Consultative Forum
- the Central American Consultative Committee
- the four Andean Consultative Councils
and our friends from Cuba, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela, as representatives of their national ESCs.
Last but not least, I warmly thank Mr Escalona, President of the Senate of the Republic of Chile, for having accepted to host the meeting. Unfortunately he could not be present today.
The EESC is a consultative body among the EU institutions, with a role in the legislative process that allows for the voice of economic and social organisations to be heard in the European decision-making process. This role is played also outside the EU borders, where we both promote the European social model and take an advisory role in the EU external policies.
EU-Latin America relations
The EU has adopted an approach, named "EU-Latin America Bi-regional Strategic Partnership" that takes into account the political, economic, social, environmental, cultural and scientific dimensions. The EESC very much welcomes this approach.
A partnership between the EU and Latin America at multilateral level is needed more than ever in the current context of crisis – be it in international organisations or on global issues such as climate change, world security, terrorism, drug trafficking, migration, fight against poverty, promotion of democracy and good governance. This partnership should be facilitated by our shared cultural and human values: indeed, there is no other region in the world whose values are so close to the EU's.
Regional integration is supposed to be one of the main objectives in our relations with Central America, Andean Community and Mercosur. The EESC regrets that the Association Agreement between the EU and the Andean Community has ended up in bilateral free-trade agreements with Colombia and Peru. The EESC requests that the EU keeps promoting a bi-regional approach. In fact, these new agreements seem to be oriented to mere trade exchanges, and there is a risk that no consideration is given to the need to compensate for the strong imbalance between the parties in economic and trade terms.
The global economic and financial crisis is aggressively affecting European economies. The crisis has not been as serious for Latin America as it even has a perspective of growth of 4.5 % in 2012. Despite the positive economic forecasts, we are alarmed to observe that this is a region in which 180 million people live in poverty. Ten countries in the region remain among the fifteen countries with the greatest inequality in the world, according to data from the United Nations Development Programme.
Civil society must be at the centre of the EU-Latin America relations. Participation of civil society is crucial in order to have more transparent relations and an increased ownership of political and trade exchanges, and also to have a more efficient implementation of policies. This can be better achieved through the existence of consultative bodies, which is why the EESC has always worked on the creation and strengthening of Latin American consultative institutions.
Investments of social and environmental quality for growth, employment and sustainable development
I firmly believe that maintaining the current growth model is unviable. In fact, its performance has reached a breaking point from the perspective of environmental sustainability and resource use, as well as by the fact that it is increasingly unable to deliver higher levels of social welfare.
It is very positive that the EU and Latin American governments are willing to look into how investments can help in leaving behind that model of maximising economic growth and contributing instead to a sustainable growth model.
Any investment policy should also take into account the need for a sustainable and long-term approach in accessing natural resources. A sustainable management of natural resources with a long-term vision will contribute to fight poverty and boost development both in the short and in the long-term, as underlined in the conclusions of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in June this year.
Investments are needed to foster new economic areas of growth and employment which promote a new development model and deserve to be supported through appropriate fiscal measures and public procurement rules that favour green growth. Examples of these new economic areas are green production, renewable energy, sustainable cities and transport systems.
Corruption, criminality and drug trafficking endanger the democratic system and the collective security of Latin America. These serious problems cause instability and they put political governance and investments of social and environmental quality at risk.
A sound business environment and the necessary legislative framework are the prerequisites for private investments for putting in place a sustainable development model. The same conditions apply to attract foreign direct investment.
The social and solidarity economy should not be a marginal sector, but rather an institutional element of the economic system, coexisting with the public and private sectors.
I regret that the informal economy, in which work and economic activities take place in the total or partial absence of social protection or respect for the legislation in force, remains an immense issue in Latin America, which also occurs in some parts of the EU.
I reiterate that unemployment, underemployment and poor quality working conditions violate the ILO's declarations on decent work.
In the light of the above, any current or future trade agreements, multiparty agreements or association agreements between the EU and Latin American countries or regions should promote decent work, the development of SMEs and micro-enterprises and, more generally, of the social and solidarity economy.
Social protection mechanisms in EU-Latin America relations
I would like to point out that "social globalisation" has a significant effect on migratory flows. There are an estimated 20 million legally recognised immigrants in the EU, while migration between southern countries is increasing.
Immigrants and companies from third countries – which generally view the EU as a single entity – are confronted in practice by different social security systems in each country which complicate their establishment and movements in the EU, and exit therefrom.
The social security coordination is increasingly important in order to protect:
- the pension rights of migrant workers to and from the EU;
- the portability of pensions;
- equal treatment with national workers;
- to avoid double social contributions in origin and host countries to which enterprises from states without bilateral agreements are subject to.
The various agreements between the EU and Latin America, whether already negotiated or under negotiation, should include a chapter on social security rights in relation to mobility.
Given the importance of having economic and social actors participating in the EU-LAC relations, the EESC and its Latin American counterparts should broaden their cooperation in order to provide, on a regular basis, their contribution to the objectives and policies agreed by the EU-LAC Summits.
I hope that the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States and of the European Union, to be held here in Santiago on 26 and 27 January 2013 will take due account of the final Declaration of this meeting.
I look forward to a successful work on these subjects during the three days event.