None of us will ever forget 2020 – it has brought events which many of us would have found inconceivable a year ago.
The COVID-19 pandemic caught us too unprepared. Its effects on all of us have been too severe. And none of us are over the worst of it yet.
But I believe there is plenty of reason to hope.
Faster than ever before, researchers from around the world have succeeded in developing effective vaccines, which will soon be made available to us.
More clearly than ever before, we can see that the value of international collaboration is once again being taken seriously.
And rarely has it been more important to have friends and partners around the world with whom we can collaborate.
And this, dear colleagues, brings me to our meeting today. It is no coincidence that the major closing event of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU is dedicated to Latin America and the Caribbean.
We have always, quite rightly, emphasised our friendship and our common values. In recent months, we have also provided very concrete evidence of them, I would say.
We have doubled our humanitarian assistance for Latin America and the Caribbean during the pandemic – I am sure that David Beasley will say more on that in a minute.
We have sent teams of doctors to the region and provided COVID-19 tests.
And we Europeans stand by our promise that a vaccine will reach not just those who can afford it, but those who need it.
Because we do not want to let down our friends – friends who we want to keep by our side in the future. And because we know that we can only truly defeat the pandemic for good when we bring it under control around the world.
The great scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who travelled extensively in Latin America, once said that with knowledge comes thought. We are all united by our belief in the importance of scientific advice and dialogue – particularly in times such as these.
Today, I would thus like to propose the joint creation of a central, transnational Centre for Infection Research in Latin America and the Caribbean. And I would be delighted to hear your initial thoughts on this before we conclude our meeting today.
The pandemic has shown that both multilateral collaboration and international solidarity are, quite literally, vital.
And a great deal is currently happening around the world.
At a time of ongoing rivalry between major world powers, we must recognise that the antagonism between the US and China will continue to shape international politics. Our countries in particular must take this into account in our political and economic decisions.
A decoupling or a division of the world into two, as we saw during the Cold War, is certainly not in our interest, nor in anyone else’s.
This is another reason for our discussions this morning of ways to continue safeguarding our digital sovereignty. The submarine cable between Brazil and Portugal will bring our respective data landscapes even closer after going live in the coming year – an encouraging development.
And I believe we should boost this dynamic. For example, through a European-Latin American connectivity platform which brings together governments and businesses to focus on the issue of digital infrastructure.
I am delighted, dear Josep, that the EU is looking to make progress here – as soon as in the coming months – and has already presented a very comprehensive agenda to that end.
All of these ideas are of course tinged by concerns about our economic and financial recovery following the pandemic.
I strongly believe that simply returning to business as usual will not be enough.
It will not enable us to solve the challenges of the future – from climate change to digitalisation. Nor will we be able to meet the expectations of our countries’ people, which have of course already been made clear by protest movements in Latin America as well as in Europe.
When we talk today about strengthening our economic and trade relations, we should keep this principle firmly in mind.
Yes, we are delighted that the new trade agreement between Mexico and the EU can soon be signed.
And we also want to see the agreement between the EU and MERCOSUR come to fruition. Because it is better when we work together to shape the social, ecological and trade standards of the future, instead of having them dictated to us by others.
That is why we need a continuing process of dialogue between the EU and MERCOSUR, one which encompasses civil society and industry, in order to resolve outstanding questions concerning climate change mitigation and sustainability.
The countries in your region in particular, first and foremost the Caribbean islands, are already being disproportionately affected by climate change. We have thus worked with the Dominican Republic and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to promote the issue of climate and security on the UN Security Council’s agenda.
And climate change can and should be given even greater weight in our joint policy-making.
This will not compromise our economic recovery. And we want to go further, in order to discuss the things that are already being discussed particularly in Europe in connection with the MERCOSUR agreement. But I would also like to reiterate that this agreement would genuinely benefit both sides.
On the topic of economic recovery and sustainability, for example, here in Germany we approved a national hydrogen strategy just a few months ago. The core aim of our strategy is to tap this promising future market and enable the sustainable transformation of our economy. And we want Latin America and the Caribbean as our partners in this undertaking.
A few days ago, funding was approved for a future-oriented project in Chile, and there is also interest elsewhere, for example in Colombia. In this, too, we are acting under your leadership, dear Josep, as Team Europe – for example, the Commission is driving an analysis of the potential of hydrogen in Latin America and the Caribbean.
If we are truly committed to the motto “build back better”, then of course we must also have the conversation about how we are going to fund this. I know that the pandemic has left particularly deep holes in your national budgets – and the situation is similar here in Europe.
We are therefore supporting the significant loans offered to Latin America and the Caribbean by the IMF, as well as the use of the Flexible Credit Line – including for emerging economies.
And we are also advocating for sustainable solutions within the G20.
Here, as elsewhere, we should look to the future. And when, in the future, we talk about debt relief, we should ensure that the investments and conditions too meet certain sustainability criteria. I am delighted that our Colombian colleague Claudia Blum will be speaking about ideas such as green debt swaps later today. This is another important and interesting topic.
I began by speaking about hope for the future beyond the year 2020.
There is one thing I have not yet mentioned. That is the hope created by our ability to hold this meeting today, to talk to one another and stand with one another amidst the ongoing crisis.
And by the two upcoming Presidencies of the Council of the EU in 2021, led by two colleagues, dear Augusto and dear Anže, who will continue the work that we aim to begin here today.
Humboldt said that with knowledge comes thought.
Today, we should add that from thought comes joint action.
On that note, I would like to thank you all for being here today, for being willing to talk to us about how we can continue to deepen our relations.
Thank you very much!