BRUSSELS — At a series of meetings around the left-leaning World Parliamentary Forum (WPF) held late last month in Porto Alegre, Brazil, there was a strong case made for the necessity of building a new economic and political partnership between the European Union and South America.

The WPF, consisting of representatives of socialist and progressive parties from around the world, but primarily at the moment from Latin America and the EU, endorsed the need for creating a global network to challenge U.S. hegemony.

The last 20 years has seen a political transformation of South America as authoritarian regimes, one by one, have been replaced by liberal democracies, but these are weak and fragile because of the impact of neoliberal ideology on the exercise of state power. While certain governments and parties have attempted to resist the logic and activities of United States-funded “missionaries” selling the message, it has been a losing battle while standing alone.

Brazil has been at the vanguard since the election two years ago of Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula de Silva’s Workers Party. When Lula came to power, Brazil was faced with a series of U.S. investment agreements based on chapter II of the North American Free Trade Agreement. These were very asymmetrical in their impact with the interests of the poor sacrificed to those of U.S. corporations. In response, Lula shifted focus from the U.S. to the EU, and from national to regional integration.

The Brazilian Workers Party, founded 25 years ago in 1980, recognized as early as 1993 that the way forward, at least for the Mercosur block of countries (Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil), was to promote integration rather than a mere free-trade area. Now Brazil wants to take the lead in rapidly accelerating this process. The last real obstacle to progress was removed by the recent left victory in Uruguay.

The EU offers the example rather than the blueprint, as it is recognized as having flaws in that the political balance of forces favors the private over the public sector, thus weakening the independence of the state social dimension. Yet the political culture of South America has much more in common with European social-democratic traditions than the privatized political parties and politics of the United States.

Lula believes that such integration would allow Mercosur countries to free themselves from unwanted altercations with their northern neighbor. The way forward is to address the democratic deficit by creating a transnational directly elected Parliament responsible for introducing proposals to create a common citizenship and by counterpoising, with common industrial and economic policies, strong social legislation that protects peasants and workers as well as socially excluded groups facing legal discrimination within their countries. The whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.

The EU’s role has become increasingly important for Mercosur amid rising EU investment and involvement. Currently there are bilateral negotiations on cooperation and trade agreements. It was agreed among the various parties at the WPF that there should be regular meetings between the European socialist parties and Mercosur’s leftist parties to ensure that progress is made and that the interests of ordinary people on both sides are not sacrificed.

Negotiations will be long and hard, but such a partnership is in the interests of all who want to see an alternative. Because of global issues both groups are on the same side of the table.

The EU has more votes in the International Monetary Fund than the U.S., but has not yet used them to challenge the current neoliberal economic orthodoxy. World Bank officials at Porto Alegre’s World Social Forum claim that they are re-evaluating their “one size fits all” approach of the past.

The successful development of India and China suggests that other models of development do exist other than the World Bank’s current one. With support from Latin America, in the World Trade Organization, at U.N. conferences in Tokyo as well as from the Santiago-plus-five and Durban-plus-five groupings, an alternative world could emerge.

Europe must stand up, and others will have to stand with it, if global civic society is to have its say.

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