Third EU-CELAC summit in Brussels

21 July 2023

The third EU-CELAC summit took place this week between 17-18 July under the theme: “renewing the bi-regional partnership to strengthen peace and sustainable development”. The meeting brought together leaders from the European Union (EU) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). At the summit, the EU and CELAC committed to renewing their long-standing partnership founded on shared values and interests.

The EU and CELAC together form a group of 60 countries with a combined population equal to 14% of the world population. This was the first EU-CELAC Summit in 8 years, which occurred in the backdrop of Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine, of which the EU and a number of CELAC leaders hold very different views and allegiances. 

Despite European efforts, leaders from the EU and CELAC failed to come to an agreement on how to express “concern” over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Drastic divergences between leaders came to the fore throughout the two-day summit with Nicaragua’s President, Daniel Ortega, who is an ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, refusing to sign the joint declaration that expressed “deep concern on the ongoing war against Ukraine.” Overall, wording on Ukraine and Russia’s ongoing invasion had to be significantly watered down during the summit. Any reference to Russia was removed completely from the declaration.  Speaking after the Summit, European Council President Charles Michel said it was “also essential to note that our friends in Latin America and the Caribbean support us… the was is a problem for Europe and the world.” Notably, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia who are allies of Russia, did agree to sign the joint declaration. 

Trade was also a major topic of discussion between both sides. Despite hopes that the Summit could reinvigorate significant talks over the EU Mercusor deal, which groups four of Latin America’s big economies, any talks remained on the margins. That said, Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva agreed with Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, on their hope to reach an agreement on the EU-Mercosur deal by the end of 2024.  

Tensions over Europe’s colonial rule in CELAC countries also came to the fore with the PM of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, who is the current President of the CELAC group calling for talks with the EU on economic reparations for colonisation and enslavement. Speaking ahead of the summit, Gonsalves spoke of his plan to “repair the historical legacies of the underdevelopment resulting from native genocide and enslavement of African bodies”. 

Despite the clear tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and trade deals, the President of Argentina, Alberto Fernández described the meeting as “very important and very ambitious”, noting how “never before have we been able to reach so many points of agreement as we have achieved now.” 

Establishing more regular contact with Latin American leaders had also been a goal of the summit. The leaders agreed to meet in Colombia in 2025.