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Karla Regalado

The soft power of the European Union in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

- Where there is crisis there is also opportunity. Soft power and Cooperation: the Mexico-EU case.

The soft power of the European Union in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

This year has been characterized as a time of crisis and instability. The COVID-19 pandemic is a problem on a global scale that has not only affected the health sector, but has also destabilized other sectors, such as the economy, since the inequalities that exist between societies and nations have become evident. Likewise, he denoted the interdependence and their respective vulnerabilities that exist in this context of globalization.

Despite the above, in moments of crisis there is always a glimmer of opportunity. The pandemic showed us that cooperation is becoming more and more present and necessary to face global problems, even geographical distance is no longer an obstacle to establishing relationships. Specifically, the European Union (EU) with Latin America, especially with Mexico.

Before the pandemic, there was a good relationship between the Parties, however, the ties were not so close. For example, in economic terms, Mexico ranks 20th as a trading partner and represents 1.3% of the EU with the world. For its part, imports from the EU to Mexico represent 0.9% and exports 1.7%, however, more than a third of these imports come from Germany and, despite having the Global Agreement, exports have not increased in the same proportion, so that it generates almost 50% of the total deficit with the block[1]. In addition, there are other countries that have a greater presence in Mexico, such as the United States and China.

"The European Union is Mexico's second largest trading partner, but the difference in trade terms with the United States is significant and the annual figures provided by the Bank of Mexico indicate that this trend will not be reversed."[2 ]

Regarding the Global Agreement, which incorporates trade, political dialogue and cooperation, signed between the parties, fifteen years after its entry into force, it has gone unnoticed and it has even been thought that it has been little used since, in terms of the trade balance, Mexico since its implementation has maintained a constant deficit with the European Union, although it has decreased in recent years, for example, for the year 2008 this deficit amounted to 24.255 million dollars, while for 2011 it amounted to 18,957 millions of dollars. [3]

Trade continues to be highly concentrated and has not generated a structural change in the relationship with its trading partners[4]. This can also be understood by the geographical location, that is, that they maintain greater relations and exchanges with closer countries. In this sense, Mexico's relations with the European Union are apparently not of great magnitude, although we must not lose sight of the fact that with the Global Agreement, European investments have increased considerably, directed at key sectors of the country's economy, but there is still much to do to give impetus to the strengthening of relations.

On the other hand, something elementary in this context of globalization is diversification, but not only in the sense of looking towards other markets, but also diversifying strategies. Joseph Nye described that power always depends on the context, that is to say, that any attempt to develop a single type of power is doomed to fail because power depends on human relationships, which vary in different contexts. He also affirmed that the important thing about power lies in the results, not in the resources, for which we must pay attention to the contexts and strategies, or else the necessary attention will not be given to the strategies of conversion of power, which turns out to be the most fundamental.[5]

Understanding this, with the pandemic, the bloc has a great opportunity not to be left behind and through "soft power", as conceptualized by Joseph Nye, focused on Development Cooperation, is how it will achieve a greater link with Mexico.

On the one hand, International Cooperation for Development is understood as “the mobilization of financial, technical and human resources to solve specific development problems, promote well-being and strengthen national capacities.[6]

For its part, soft power becomes a key element for cooperation since it resorts to means such as the definition of the agenda, persuasion and attraction. "Instead of thinking of power "over" one thinks of power "with" when looking for the other to adhere to values and/or a culture"[7]. In this sense, the 2030 Agenda is the universal roadmap for comprehensive development, which establishes 17 goals for sustainable development in which values are shared and the motto "Leave no one behind".

The European Union and Mexico are prominent defenders of the Agenda, as well as share the values of democracy, peace, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Likewise, development occupies a central place in foreign policy and its relations with the rest of the world are based on solidarity and cooperation. Similarly, Development Cooperation is considered an investment in a viable and shared future.

On the other hand, Joseph Nye explained that power in the contemporary world is similar to a 3-dimensional chessboard: military power is placed on the top rung, economic power is placed on the middle rung, and economic power is placed on the bottom rung. transnational relationships that arise from non-traditional situations such as: a pandemic.[8]

On this basis, we are located on the last rung of chess in which various public and private actors have been involved to try to counteract the global health crisis and cooperation has been present at various times, so the pandemic is clearly a multipolar situation.

To exemplify the 3 dimensions of Joseph Nye, in graph 1 we can see how the percentage of global presence that the European Union has in different variables is:

Graph 1.- Global Presence of the European Union

Source: Manuel García Santos, Iliana Olivié, The EU as a soft power, Elcano Royal Institute, June 8, 2020.

Graph 2 shows the regions in which the European Union exercises its soft power

Graph 2.- Regions that receive soft power from the EU

Source: Manuel García Santos, Iliana Olivié, The EU as a soft power, Elcano Royal Institute, June 8, 2020.

Graph 3 shows the fate of the soft power of the European Union by country:

Graph 3.- Destination of soft power in the EU by country

Source: Manuel García Santos, Iliana Olivié, The EU as a soft power, Elcano Royal Institute, June 8, 2020.

Observing the graphs we can return to the idea of diversification, for the EU it is best to locate itself in the last two levels of the Nye chessboard. In the same way, it is necessary to understand that the context of the pandemic, as previously stated, brings with it the moment of opportunity to potentiate its soft power through International Development Cooperation, retaking the values and the 2030 Agenda that they have in common. to improve the numbers and have more influence in Latin America, especially with Mexico.

To achieve this objective, the block dedicated itself to the creation of various instruments: The EU recovery instrument called Next generation in which 750 billion euros were allocated for the period 2021-2027, with this they consider that they will increase the capacity financial budget of the Union to 18.5 billion euros.

They also created the New European Consensus on Development (CED) in 2017 and proposed a Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 that includes a new single financial instrument for the neighbourhood, development and international cooperation. In addition, the Special Development Fund allocated around 82 million euros in foreign financing between 2012 and 2020.[12] The global aid package known as Team Europe was conceived as the community response of aid and cooperation, in which they provided more than 20 billion euros to support the Union's partner countries in combating the pandemic and its consequences.[13]

In the case of Mexico, on June 22 of this year, the XIII Mexico-EU Joint Committee met by videoconference within the framework of the Economic Association, Political Coordination and Cooperation Agreement. The Agenda for the Mexico-EU dialogues under the Strategic Association for the rest of 2020 was reviewed. Similarly, dialogues were established on Human Rights issues, climate change and the new priorities of the European Commission in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 19, as well as other areas of cooperation such as the EU contribution to the "Comprehensive Development Plan for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico".[14]

Likewise, the bloc has offered its assistance with the world package Team Europe in which it has allocated 8 million euros[15] that will help strengthen the sanitary, water and sanitation systems, as well as as for diagnostic tests for COVID-19. Similarly, it aims to support the most vulnerable sectors of the population such as women at risk, migrants, journalists, etc. In addition, it seeks continuity in education for girls and boys.[16]

Therefore, we can conclude that the health crisis we are experiencing demonstrates not only the negative aspect, but also teaches us that in this context it is necessary to strengthen dialogue and international cooperation. The borders are becoming increasingly blurred and interdependence shows us its presence in infinite moments. To counteract this, diversification must be prioritized at various levels not only of markets, but also of strategies, but there must also be thought transformation.

The international community is increasingly connected, it is necessary to know how to respond to this, both its risks and opportunities, and since there is dependency and vulnerability, the best thing would be to cooperate in various variables through the use of soft power through Cooperation for Development, the which is one of the most effective strategies for the improvement not only of a region, but of the whole world. The relationship between Mexico and the European Union is an example of the great opportunity we have to have more ties and be able to cooperate with more and more States to make our world a link with common values in which there is a peaceful and sustainable space in which let no one be left behind.


    [1] Norma Castañeda Bustamante y Rodolfo Aguirre Reveles. “Logros y limitaciones del Acuerdo de Asociación Económica,.” En Temas de coyuntura en la relación México- Unión Europea, Luis Antonio Huacuja Acevedo, 197. México: FES Acatlán, 2015.


    [3] Idem.

    [4] Idem.

    [5] Cita Joseph Nye, The future of power, Public Affairs, Nueva York, 2011 en Daniel, Añorve. “Más allá del poder suave, del poder duro y del poder inteligente: la resiliencia ecológica y humana como fundamentos de poder.” Revista de Relaciones Internacionales de la UNAM, núm 125 mayo-agosto, 2016

    [6] Cita de de Perez y suerra, cooperación, 1998 p.12 en Citlali Ayala Martínez. Jorge A. Peréz Pineda. Manual de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo. México: Instituto Mora.

    [7] Daniel, Añorve, op. cit., p. 46.

    [8] Joseph S. Nye, Jr, entrevista de Cesar Villanueva. El poder en el Siglo XXI ( 8 de noviembre de 2012), pp. 175, 176.

    [9] Manuel García Santos, Iliana Olivié, La UE como potencia blanda, Real Instituto Elcano, 8 de junio de 2020.

    [10] Manuel García Santos, Iliana Olivié, La UE como potencia blanda, Real Instituto Elcano,8 de junio de 2020.

    [11] Manuel García Santos, Iliana Olivié, La UE como potencia blanda, Real Instituto Elcano,8 de junio de 2020.

    [12] Unión Europea. La Unión Europea. Luxemburgo:-,2018, p. 32.

    [13] Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores. La Unión Europea y sus Estados Miembros son solidarios con México en su lucha contra la pandemia de COVID-19 y sus consecuencias. 12 de junio de 2020. (último acceso: 29 de Agosto de 2020).

    [14] Delegación de la Unión Europea en México. XIII Comité Conjunto México-UE. 22 de junio de 2020 (último acceso: 27 de Agosto de 2020).

    [15] Europe Union external action. EU and its Members States launch Team Europe in Mexico. 17 de junio de 2020 (último acceso:27 de Agosto de 2020).

    [16] Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, op. cit.

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Regalado, Karla. “El Poder suave de la Unión Europea en el contexto de la pandemia de la COVID-19.” CEMERI, 22 sept. 2022,