Integration undermined by internal disagreement

By Pablo Mieres (for Safe Democracy)

Pablo Mieres considers that with internal disagreement among the member states, and the paralysis of commercial relations with the European Union, it is hard to be optimistic about the future of MERCOSUR, despite the recent inauguration of a regional Parliament.

Pablo Mieres has a PhD in Law and Social Sciences and a Master’s degree in Sociology for Development. He is currently the Director of the Social Science department at the Catholic University of Uruguay, and a professor of graduate and postgraduate studies both there and at the University of the Republic of Montevideo. He served as a Member of Parliament in Uruguay from 2000-2005 and was a candidate in the 2004 Presidential elections for the Independent Party, over which he currently presides. He is a columnist for the newspaper El Observador in Montevideo.

OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS the Common Market Council of MERCOSUR will hold a meeting, uniting the Economy and Foreign Affairs Ministers of its five member states. Yet, despite the scale of the meeting, the expectations for concrete results are very low.

The governments of Uruguay and Paraguay continue to push for recognition of the asymmetrical nature of the treaty. Both countries have reiterated their desire for compensation to make up for the notorious difference between large and small economies.

Yet, nobody expects the more major members of the organization to respond positively to these claims. On one hand, the Argentinean government is becoming increasingly distracted by its upcoming elections. In a few days there will be an election held in Buenos Aires, and in October the Presidential elections will take place.

And on the other hand, the Brazilian government has taken on a more active position in international relations, and has little interest in addressing the needs of its regional partners. Brazil just recently received an interesting proposition to advance bilateral negotiations with the European Union, which will more than likely take precedence in the development of commercial relations for the country.

The EU initiative to open talks with Brazil is not, however, an all-inclusive step. Rather than negotiating with MERCOSUR, the EU has chosen to single out one of its member countries for private dialogue. If the negotiation is successful it could present yet another sign of crisis for the already struggling Latin American union.

For several years, MERCOSUR and the European Union tried to advance bilateral negotiation in order to sign a commercial agreement. Had a treaty been signed, it would have represented an important step in the political and commercial maturity of the organization; yet, the negotiations have been stagnant for years.

And in its place, the EU is now ignoring the organization in favor of bilateral dialogue with the strongest economy of the region.

Only two months ago, President Lula advanced talks with his US counterpart on the development of a new generation of alternative energy sources, drawing strong criticism from President Chavez, a new member of the regional block.

And the persistence of the complex conflict between Argentina and Uruguay over the paper plants built on their mutual border has further complicated integration, and augmented the sense of crisis in the region.

It is therefore evident that a variety of problems and disagreements are affecting MERCOSUR and inhibiting the institution of a favorable short-term solution.

Despite this situation of crisis, MERCOSUR solemnly celebrated the installation of a regional Parliament. Yet, as is common with regional forums of debate, the Parliament is little more than a public relations move. No amount of meaningless discourse and hollow words can cover up the seriousness of the crisis. With things as they are, paralysis is what we can expect for the future of MERCOSUR.

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