Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The European Constitution: A View From Latin America

The defeat of the European Constitution in its French referendum has many implications for Latin America. One of them is that it means bad news for the processes of globalization and regionalization that are not driven by the market.

One of the beauties of the European Union process was, up until this last weekend of May, that it represented a chance for a politically driven process of globalization and regionalization. It was more relevant because it dwarfed other processes that exist in other regions of the world, mainly in the NAFTA-CAFTA region (Canada, United States, Mexico, Chile, and Central America), and the Mercosur region (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay). It was an exercise of political imagination with no parallel in the history of the world: countries willing to peacefully give up their sovereignty in order to create larger markets paying consideration to social issues.

Not only that, the configuration of the European Union as a single political unit played a key role in shaping, as one of many possible examples, some of the political changes in countries like Mexico. In 1995-6, as an example, the Mexican government was forced to broaden and to institutionalize some of the changes that allowed the final drive to democratize the country in the elections of 1997 and 2000.

Without the "democratic clause" that the European Union required as a requisite of its trade agreement with Mexico, such agreement would have never been possible. Notice that the U.S. or Canada required nothing like that in 1992-3 during the NAFTA talks. Moreover, in recent years the European Union played a key role in promoting socially responsible business practices in Central America.

Furthermore, the effort carried until this weekend by the European Union was a frequent example of a different kind of globalization-regionalization frequently used in Latin American circles as a counterfactual to the kind of insensitive practices that dominate the relation between the "partners" of the NAFTA region, and by those who oppose the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

The worst aspect of the defeat of the European constitution in France is the fact that it was driven by the fear to the "Polish plumber," which is the same fear to the Mexican or Central American immigrant here in the United States. It is a fear based in the unwillingness of the relatively wealthy populations of France, Britain, Holland, and the United States to share some of the privileges that they have had for 100 or 150 years.

Finally, such defeat opens up a series of questions regarding the possible future role of China in Latin America in moments when it is clear that the U.S. economy is unable to assume a leading role in the region. Unfortunately, it is clear for me that the kind of capitalism that China develops is far more aggressive and disrespectful of social, human, and environmental considerations than those practiced by the United States or the, now fragmented, European Union.

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