Galicia looks to Latin America as dynamic partner

Author (Person)
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Series Details Vol.7, No.46, 13.12.01, p26
Publication Date 13/12/2001
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Date: 13/12/01

President of Galicia Manuel Fraga Iribarne argues that the EU must live up to its global responsibilities and forge stronger links with countries beyond its frontiers

Galicia largely reflects the European spirit of integration. Our region has strong links with Portugal and took part in the original European movement: the Santiago de Compostela way has been chronicled and celebrated by poets from medieval times up to the immortal Goethe himself.

We are also strongly linked to the other regions of the Atlantic, both in Europe and on the other side of the ocean.

The impending Spanish presidency of the EU will provide an excellent opportunity to restart the transatlantic dialogue, with the EU-Latin America summit that will be held in Madrid next May. We think Europe sometimes misses great cooperation and commercial development opportunities in Latin America. The loss of our companies' positions and exports in Mexico clearly indicates this.

The new relationship framework set with this republic should reverse that trend and we have to extend it to the whole of Latin America, beginning with Mercosur and Chile. This does not contradict our wish to maintain quality relations with North America. The Spaniards, almost one century before The Mayflower landed in Massachusetts, were the first to settle in such areas as the present California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

This engagement is not gratuitous. We Europeans must become aware of our international responsibility beyond our old and tiny continent. Latin America is at present the only large area that has similarity of culture and values. It

is also experiencing a certain demographic dynamism and it needs huge productive investments to improve its social development and democratic engagement.

Both Europeans and Latin Americans can gain a lot from intensifying our cooperation. We should not abandon this opportunity.

We know that our enlargement to eastern Europe can drive us to the wrong belief that our own internal consumer and investment market is big enough.

The reality shows this to be wrong - something that can easily be understood by anyone who follows the international markets and the leading companies in each sector.

At the same time, Europe has to reform in constitution and institution.

In this reshaping, in order to avoid the divorcing of the Community and its citizens, the regions must play a more important role. A European polycentric development - that is fundamental along its Atlantic front - must also be encouraged in big infrastructures and industry in our small strip is beginning to generate excessive social and environmental costs.

The demographic regress and the ageing population of our Atlantic rural area cannot be compatible with the original European founders' idea and with preserving our rich natural and cultural heritage.

The Galician xunta, or government, has developed a strategy of modernisation, external cooperation and

socio-economic openness. All the relevant protagonists in regional development recognise our successful and fair use of structural funds.

As has happened in other regions in Europe, which have had more than an additional decade of intensive EU financial support, this will produce benefits for years to come, since actions in the road networks, education and environmental protection will encourage the private sector to trust in our proven ability to help them profit.

It is not by chance that many leading companies have their most productive plants in our region. Investments in highways, communications, ports and airports and railway networks will allow important savings in companies' costs.

We also recently strengthened a pilot working community with northern Portugal. We have gone further than the EU single market by encouraging an openness that includes all significant social and business sectors: from trade union agreements to consumers and users of our Euroregion protection no matter where their homes are, to the common management of environmental policies.

For Portuguese and Galician people the European construction has been an excellent opportunity to end centuries-old prejudice and feelings of suspicion that should not have existed between two neighbouring countries.

As an Atlantic region, Galicia wants the maritime economy to be encouraged. Europe came to be what it is today thanks to its navigators, fishermen and shipbuilders. Today the European merchant and fishing fleets are in trouble and their situation is almost as bad as in the shipyards. We all must understand that Europe cannot keep on being a commercial power or guarantee its clean, GMO-free food supply if it does not support seafarers and seamen.

Land transport systems are becoming congested, largely due to inefficient maritime transport - especially the traffic along our coastline.

For Galicians and Atlantic Europeans, the sea is an irreplaceable and rich resource and we must take care of it. We must avoid environmental deterioration from shipping accidents and spills because some vessels do not meet minimum security standards.

We definitively want Europe to be aware of its multilingualism, as this is the only way to preserve harmonious coexistence among nations that have historically been at war. A Europe that really cares about territorial balance and equality of living conditions for its citizens. A Europe that can open cooperation areas to avoid a collapse of our narrow-based demographic pyramid.

The Galicians, with our tradition of emigration and heritage are used to making ourselves at home in the world and so we are not afraid of a more heterogeneous and open Europe - without losing our own humanistic tradition.

There is no doubt that Spain will take on the EU presidency with its national point of view, and we will contribute to this with these proposals.

Author, who is President of Galicia, argues that the EU must live up to its global responsibilities and forge stronger links with countries beyond its frontiers. Article is part of a special report on the Spanish Presidency of the EU, January-June 2002.

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