EU-Latin America dialogue: trade, but also people
Latin America wasn’t a priority for the EU in the past, but things are changing.
Not everything in life is economics, but the economy helps us to understand a part of reality. When we say that EU trade with Ibero-America (97% of its population speaks Spanish or Portuguese) amounts to nearly 200 billion Euros per year, that should be in itself an argument for increasing our attention on relations with that part of the globe, including mobility trends.
The historic relationships of Portugal and Spain with their former territories has always been a push to bring the EU closer to Ibero-America, but it was not sufficient until the EU itself had seen its strategic interest. And this is now in fact the case. The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, summarised its potential during the EU-Latin America summit in 2010 in Madrid: “the leaders who gathered here today represent more than one billion people, one third of the membership of the United Nations, and a significant share of the global economy.” This is a potential which still needs to be developed in all areas including migration.
The size of the phenomenon
According to the Migration International Organization, in 2010 the migrant stock from people born in the Ibero-American countries in EU-27 was 4.29 million, a number which is quite similar to the stock of intra-regional migrants within Ibero-American countries (4.08 million). Migrants from Ibero-America residing in the EU-27 represent around 9% of all international migrants residing in EU countries. Spain, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands and France are the top destinations; Spain, for obvious historical and linguistic reasons, is the leading one (60% of Ibero-Americans coming to the EU chose Spain as the country of destination). In contrast, European migrants to the Ibero-American countries represent 18% of the total share of immigrants residing in the region. The main source countries migrating to Ibero-America were Spain (47,701), Germany (20,926), the Netherlands (17,168) and Italy (15,701). In total, more than 100,000 Europeans left their home countries to reside in Ibero-America.
A new political framework
Migration is one of the key cooperation areas, particularly since 2009, when the EU and the Latin America and Caribbean countries (CELAC, Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) set up a structured and comprehensive dialogue on that topic. The commitment to further develop the dialogue was renewed at the sixth EU-Latin American Summit held in Madrid in May 2010 (resulting in the Madrid Action Plan), and reinforced in the recent 1st EU-CELAC Summit in Santiago de Chile, on January 2013, which foresees an Action Plan 2013-15.
Crisis and mobility
The economic crisis did not stimulate a massive return of migrants from the EU countries to their home Ibero-American countries. Instead, migrants moved from one EU country to another, and State policies with the aim of facilitating the return of migrants (particularly those who were unemployed) were not very successful. Yet, remittances represent a big element of foreign exchange inflows to Latin-American countries (5.5 billion Euros from the EU in 2010); and for some of them this is socially crucial.
Indeed, at this time there is a 'pull effect' on highly qualified European professionals who are required at this time in Ibero-America. Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Mexico are the countries that are the recipients of this new mobility, now taking place in the other direction. Remittances from that region to the EU amounted to 3.6 billion Euros (in 2010), a remarkable amount of money.
Improving legal mobility channels between the EU and Ibero-America is of mutual interest: not only for the labour market but also for students, researchers or volunteers and their families. In this context, the promotion of the effective enjoyment and protection of migrants’ fundamental rights in both regions is a must. But not least, the fight against trafficking in human beings, smuggling of migrants and the need to assist victims, as highlighted in Action Plan 2013-15, should be prioritised.
Impact for the Church
Christians from Ibero-America are moving into the spiritual vacuum of an increasingly secularised Europe, and Ibero-American priests are tending to growing congregations. The election of Pope Francis, the son of European immigrants, who speaks to the world in Spanish, reminds us that migration is beneficial for Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
José Luis Bazán
Legal Adviser, Secretariat of COMECE