In search of business, Europe changes tone in Latin America
By Robin Emmott
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Five years ago during the closing speeches of a summit in Chile, Spain's king told Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to "shut up" in an exchange that epitomized the fruitless meetings between Europe and Latin America at the time.
Dominated by leftist rhetoric and instability in the Andes, the summits were sideshows to the rapid economic growth in Europe that followed the introduction of the euro a decade ago, and the concerns of Madrid and Brussels lay elsewhere.
But a debt crisis in Europe has turned the relationship between former imperial powers and their colonies on its head. EU leaders meeting in Santiago for a summit with Latin American heads of state this weekend were frank about their eagerness to piggy-back onto the region's impressive economic growth.
"This is now a strategic relationship between equal partners," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, leading a huge delegation of European Union leaders and business executives.
With so many bilateral meetings during the two-day summit, Merkel had barely finished delivering her remarks before she rushed off to Santiago's business district to try to arrange investments and seal trade deals.
"We invite you to invest in Germany," she said, echoing Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy, who the day before made his plea from Chile's presidential palace.
With 60 percent of young Spaniards unemployed, and the German economy, Europe's biggest, struggling with the impact of a public debt crisis that nearly broke up the euro zone last year, Latin America clearly has the upper hand.
Latin America's economic output is expected to grow almost 4 percent this year, while the 17-nation euro zone will probably contract. Europe wants Latin American companies to follow Mexican businessman Carlos Slim, who has invested in Dutch telecoms company KPN. Continued...