Delegation of the European Union to Russia

Latin America, the European Union and COVID-19 (with Jutta Urpilainen)

Brussels, 13/07/2020 - 10:00, UNIQUE ID: 200713_2
Op-Eds

13/07/2020 - Several outlets - Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union (EU) have strong relations and share a common history, universal values and political interests. Yet there is more than that underpinning our relationship.

Over the last years, our societies have become more integrated, increasing our political and economic clout in the world: together, we account for 25% of the world’s GDP, for one third of the United Nations’ membership and for almost half the members of the G20.

However, the world we know is changing, accelerated not least by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the values that we share are increasingly being challenged. From multilateralism and sustainable development to equality and social cohesion, our commitment to a rules-based global order is being put to the test. In this changing global order, Latin America and Europe must continue to work together to project their influence and protect the values that our partnership stands for.

The foremost challenge we face now is the common fight to defeat Covid-19. From Asia to Europe and the Americas, the ‘epicentre of the pandemic’ shifted and has sent shockwaves across the globe, affecting economies and societies unevenly as the virus spread from one continent to the other.

Latin America has been particularly badly hit by Covid-19. While the region is home to 8 % of the world’s population, it accounts for 20% of global Covid-19 deaths, And half of all the new deaths worldwide are found in the region, according to figures from beginning of July. And let’s not forget that here, as elsewhere, the actual number of deaths may well be higher than the records show.

Thankfully, most countries in the region have responded quickly to the outbreak of the pandemic. Despite the economic difficulties that the lockdown measures have caused on most economies, these were the right and responsible choices to be made in order to save lives.

While this decisive action has yet to translate into a ‘flattened curve’ to bring the pandemic under control, and we should focus on four factors.

First, COVID-19 has hit Latin America at a time when economic performance and public confidence in institutions were already low.

Second, the pandemic’s economic impact is strongly linked to pre-existing conditions – including informal employment, poverty and inequality – and only in part to the measures taken. With more than half of the region’s population struggling to make ends meet, lockdown presents an unavoidable dilemma: to go hungry or get infected.

Meanwhile, women suffering from gender violence face an existential threat, while high rates of overcrowding in housing and on transport, the lack of access to drinking water and weak health services further aggravate an already complex circumstance.

Third, more than three months of lockdown measures have exacted an enormous social and human toll in terms of protecting health, supporting the most vulnerable and contributing to the global effort to contain the virus. Now, the region is facing a ‘perfect storm’, with the pandemic on the rise in societies already exhausted by attempts to contain it. These efforts deserve recognition and, above all, urgent support from the international community and the European Union.

Fourth, multilateral financial responses have so far failed to meet real needs in a region with little fiscal and monetary room for manoeuvre and low tax revenues.

Altogether, these factors paint a rather bleak picture. Yet they also tell us how we can start turning the situation around.

For international partners like the European Union, the G20, the World Bank and other multilateral organisations, that means responding adequately, including funding health care systems, preserve jobs and avoid a new cycle of austerity. The alternative scenario of a return to the ‘lost decade’ of the 1980s.We cannot allow that to happen.

We must tackle all forms of inequality – which is a central element of the EU’s sustainable development efforts with all partner countries around the world. We must leave no one behind. And we must offer young people genuine prospects for the future.

Latin America also needs a temporary solution based on the needs and possibilities to build a better and responsible future. Just as the EU is exploring how to maximise the impact of its budgetary tools to boost the recovery of its economy, the IMF should consider stepping up its own action in the region, offering more generous conditions than it has done until now.

At the same time, the EU is stepping up its support to Latin America. Through the Team Europe approach, we have redirected almost 1 billion euro to respond to basic health and social needs in Latin America. But we can and must do more, starting with more robust medium-term support in the European Union’s new long-term budget for 2021-2027.

With a clear vision for our partnership and the right level of support, we can equip the region with the social and economic resilience to better withstand future crises.

And we must continue defending our shared values that are central to our partnership. While many increasingly question the multilateral system, we should continue to join our efforts to stop a further erosion of the global order and to stop growing global inequalities and divergences.


Josep Borrell Fontelles is EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice-President of the European Commission

Jutta Urpilainen is European Commissioner in charge of international partnerships