What are the agendas to be developed by a Mercosur that seeks to update
itself, adapting to circumstances that are quite different from those
that prevailed at the time of its foundation?
After the recent Presidential Summit held in Asuncion, there are three
possible agendas that can be visualized if Mercosur is to have a relevant
future. These are interrelated agendas and it would be hard to imagine
progress in any one of them unless there is significant progress in the
remaining ones. Developing these agendas would update and, to a certain
extent, renew Mercosur by making it an instrument that can be perceived
as functional to the governance objectives of the South America regional
space, to the productive transformation and social cohesiveness of each
one of its member countries and to its competitive insertion in a world
that is undergoing profound changes, presenting great challenges and opportunities
at the same time.
The first agenda is related to fulfilling commitments. It gained strong
political momentum last year at the San Juan Mercosur Summit. It is related
with the instruments that are considered essential in order to complete
the customs union and that, until then, had been "dragging their
feet" (among others the customs code, the elimination of the double
imposition of the external tariff and the distribution of customs revenue).
It includes relevant issues that would render effective the economic preference
agreed between the partners to promote productive investment decisions
in their respective markets -whatever their size- in relation to the enlarged
market. These include government procurement regulations, mechanisms aimed
at promoting productive integration and addressing economic asymmetries.
This is an agenda that will probably take some time to develop. In any
case, next December Mercosur Summit, under the temporary presidency of
Uruguay, will prove an opportunity to verify the strength of the political
momentum gained in San Juan.
The second agenda concerns Mercosur's transformation, in order to adapt
it to the new regional and international realities. It could be called
the metamorphosis agenda of a Mercosur that was created under different
circumstances form the current ones and from those that can be envisioned
for the future. Edgar Morin, French sociologist and philosopher, argues
in his book "Ma Gauche" (FB, Paris, 2010) that in view of the
need to change, a metamorphosis may allow to reconcile the demands for
a radical transformation with the preservation of those assets that remain
from previous stages. Somehow the European integration has been and experience
of continuous metamorphosis. It has reconciled continuity and change in
all of its transformations. If this will continue to be so in the future
is the question that is currently being raised given the intensity of
the problems it is being confronted with.
Transforming Mercosur while preserving what has already been achieved
and those aspects that are essential - for example the willingness of
neighboring countries to work together and that while preserving their
sovereignty share a regional geographic space with an ever-increasing
connectedness- will be no easy task and will demand considerable time.
It will require avoiding the temptation of discarding everything that
has been achieved so far and thus not being able to profit from the acquired
It may be envisioned as an ongoing task in which each stage will lead
to the need for further adaptations. In other opportunities, we have mentioned
that those who imagine the voluntary integration between neighboring countries
as a brightly lit highway to happiness might be having a too romanticized
view of reality. On the contrary, building a region where peace and political
stability prevail, with economic and social development and with a relevant
presence in the globalized world is not a task that can be finalized in
one day, nor one that can be completed with the directions found in textbooks
or in models from other regions, neither is it free from unexpected jolts,
conflicts and setbacks.
The integration of neighboring countries does not entail sharing everything
nor does it eliminate deeply rooted disagreements. However, it does involve
implementing a methodology that is based on mutual trust in order to harmonize
interests that may be contradictory and to resolve, in accordance with
freely agreed rules, any disputes that may impact the evolution of the
joint project or the quality of life of the regional neighborhood. It
involves, above all, having objective criteria for the differentiation
between "us" and "them" which is the essence of this
type of process and of the strategic ideas supporting it. All this is
not simple, especially considering that, in spite of the economic asymmetries
and even of relative power, none of the Mercosur partner countries -as
large as it may be- could enforce its will on the others nor become, in
actual fact, Mercosur's mouthpiece.
Therefore, the agenda for the transformation of Mercosur will require
intense political drive and, most particularly, technical inventiveness.
Otherwise, it will be difficult to reconcile, in practice, what is desirable
and necessary with what is possible.
After the recent Asuncion Summit, two focal points appear as being central
to the development of a transforming agenda. One of them is the semiannual
pro tempore presidency, that in this second part of the year corresponds
to Uruguay and that next year - and this is not a trivial fact- will be
held first by Argentina and later by Brazil. The other is the figure of
Mercosur's High Representative-General, a position currently held by the
Brazilian diplomat Ambassador Samuel Pinheiro Guimaraes. These are two
focal points that, even when different in their levels and functions,
will become all the more productive the more they complement each other
in their actions.
In Asuncion, Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay, expressed some thoughts
that enable us to perceive his priorities as Pro Tempore President of
Mercosur for this second semester of the year. From our interpretation
these addressed three pivotal points for the metamorphosis of Mercosur.
The first is the diagnosis of the changes that are taking place in the
global and regional context. It is clear that the world of today is different
from that of the time of Mercosur's foundational moments, be it when the
agreements between Argentina and Brazil were signed, or when the political
process that led to the signing of the Treaty of Asuncion was launched.
It is now a world characterized by a strong dynamic of change and by shifts
in the relative power of nations; new relevant actors have emerged -or
re-emerged in the case of China and India-; physical, economic and cultural
distances have collapsed; the tendency towards multicultural scenarios
has accentuated, or -as expressed by Jean-Claude Guillebaud ("Le
commencement d'un monde", Seuil, Paris, 2008)- towards a crossbreed
modernity in which heterogeneity is the rule; the mesh of productive chains
and global and regional social networks has become more thick; it is a
world in which the large economic spaces -either individual nations such
as China India or the US., or organized regions such as the European Union-
coexist with a wide array of small actors of every kind, capable of generating
unpredictable and even unimaginable events; finally, it is a world in
which there is a dialectic tension between strong forces that drive towards
globalization and others that lead to a revaluation of what is local and
The agenda of Mercosur's transformation will have to be based in a joint
effort to diagnose the trends and events that have a bearing on the future
from the perspective of the region. A fertile ground has opened up for
initiatives that lead to articulate networks of competitive intelligence
-i.e. the capacity to understand the world around us, the deep forces
that are shaping it, the behavior of the key actors, the events that anticipate
shifts in the competitive advantages between nations- formed by institutions
and teams from the member countries that share their workload while combining
the needed national outlook with that of the Mercosur-space. On this aspect,
the experience of Ambassador Pinheiro Guimarães as head of the
Strategic Affairs Secretariat of the government of President Lula may
prove useful. One of the most sophisticated centers of competitive intelligence
in the region, the Institute for Advanced Economic Research (Instituto
de Pesquisa Econômica Avanzada or IPEA) functions within the scope
of this Secretariat. Together with other centers or prospecting groups
form the member countries they could articulate the abovementioned diagnostic
networks on the dynamics of the changes that are affecting the region
and the world.
The second point is that of Mercosur's institutions. These reflect methods
and processes that are aimed at harmonizing national interests and creating
common ground rules, making sure that they are observed, have an impact
on reality and generate the expected results. How to revert the tendency
towards a Mercosur that has rules that are perceived as precarious, meaning
that even when they have been agreed by all the partners their compliance
often depends on the unilateral decision of each one of them depending
on the current circumstances and interests? How to materialize institutionally
the idea of "us" and "them" in the relations with
other countries, at least on the economic front, which is an essential
aspect of this type of process, supposedly launched with the creation
of Mercosur? How to achieve the ideal scenario where Mercosur can express
itself with one single voice, based on previously agreed positions between
its members, when participating in international forums, such as the G20
or the WTO, or in international trade negotiations as those that have
been taking place for years with the European Union?
One of the fronts that demands the most political drive and technical
ingenuity is precisely that related with the ability of the Mercosur partners
to express themselves before the world as a unit, if possible as one single
voice, at least in those issues related with their common agenda which,
in the measure that integration becomes multi dimensional and transcends
the commercial or even economic aspect, will tend to be more comprehensive.
In practice, the economic and relative power asymmetries between the partners
conspire against the achievement of this goal.
The other central point is that of citizenship participation in the development
of Mercosur. In the measure that its scope has extended to other topics,
aside from the commercial and economic, and that issues linked with society,
culture, education, justice and security, among others, are prompting
the joint action of the member countries, it will become even more necessary
to guarantee a direct link between the decision-making processes of Mercosur
and the citizens. It is an issue with multiple possible aspects including
that of transparency, the right of access to information, citizen participation
in crafting the decisions of their interest and the possibility of electing
the representatives at the Mercosur Parliament. It is in this aspect where
the idea of exploring the concept of moving towards "digital democracy",
brought forward by President Mujica, gains full relevance. In this case,
it would mean a leap into a sort of "Mercosur 2.0" that would
certainly imply the existence of official web pages of a better quality
than those of today.
Finally, the third agenda is related with the national participation
of each member country to reflect the strategies of their multiple protagonists
acting in their markets and who have vested interests in the Mercosur
space. This is just a part of a broader agenda relevant to the insertion
of the respective country in the world and aimed at preserving and potentiating
national interests. International experience shows that in every integration
process between neighboring countries the quality of the national agenda
is a key variable to ensure a reasonable balance in the distribution of
costs and benefits among the partners. Regional integration implies the
existence of countries who know what they need and what they can do, and
who have discussed this openly and thoroughly among all the domestic social
sectors. This is fundamental at the moment of defining winners and losers.
The three mentioned agendas will now have to face an additional and complex
issue which is the start of the process that could lead to the addition
of Bolivia and Ecuador, currently only associates, as full members of
Mercosur, together with the incorporation of Venezuela, still not formally
If well managed, the amplification of Mercosur to include new members
can be positive for its gravitation in the regional and global scenario.
Both Bolivia and Ecuador have, in this sense, much to contribute. However,
such expansion will require a consolidation of the hard core that, since
the time of its inception, has been formed by the strategic relation between
Argentina and Brazil. It will also require delving deep into the issue
of the linkage between Mercosur and Unasur.
A Mercosur with four partners that is perceived as credible and effective
is something difficult to achieve. However it is not impossible. It will
take time. A Mercosur with five or more members poses additional challenges
in terms of political leadership and technical resourcefulness. It might
require differentiation between the commitments, multiple speeds and variable
geometries. It is something feasible if the hard core is perceived as
being a strong and solid one.
The success of the metamorphosis and of the eventual enlargement will
require for all partners to visualize Mercosur as a common project with
a collective leadership adapted to the challenges that will be faced when
sailing into the future world. Additionally, it will require a solid articulation
at the internal front of each member country so that the end result of
the metamorphosis is convenient for their interests and their people.
It will also require that citizens regard it as something of their own;
that they identify with the joint undertaking and value its symbols; that
they feel they can have an effective participation; that their employment,
their well-being and their future depends, to a great measure, on the
quality of Mercosur.
As the European experience currently shows, this is not easy to achieve,
least yet to maintain permanence through time. If there is something that
characterizes this kind of integration processes between neighboring nations
that share a regional geographic space, is that the end result is not
predetermined and that the point of no return is not guaranteed. It would
seem inconvenient to generate exaggerated expectations regarding its results.
Neither would it be convenient to hide the fact that the distribution
of costs and benefits among the partners could eventually turn out to
be different from what was expected.