On 17 July 2023, over 30 delegates from the Global South and North convened in Brussels on the fringes of the thrid EU-CELAC Summit to launch the first South-North Dialogue, a new joint initiative of Progressive International and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation seeking to chart a path towards a New International Economic Order fit for the needs of working peoples on both sides of the deepening geopolitical divide. One of those delegates was Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB) General Secretary Peter Mertens, whose speech is documented below:
I would like to thank the organizers for this event. The importance of healthy, fair and mutually beneficial cooperation and trade between different countries cannot be underlined enough.
Peter Mertens is a member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives and General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB).
So is the importance of the summit between CELAC and the European Union. I hope that summit brings fruitful results. But a lot of work remains to be done. A senior European Union diplomat told Euronews last week, “it seems that the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean want to be seen as equal partners.”
It “seems” that they want to be seen “as equal partners”. So, in that man’s mind, they are not equal partners. That says a lot. A number of diplomats, government leaders, and forces in Europe have not seen — or have not wanted to see — the changes in the world order since the turn of the century.
They have not seen how the illegal war against Iraq in 2003 definitively undermined the credibility of the United States as the so-called leader of the world. That was an initial breaking point, which was followed by the illegal interventions in Libya and Afghanistan.
They have not seen how, on the other side of the world, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was set up in 2001, a regional cooperation to ensure the region's security against the advancing Taliban. That Shanghai Cooperation Organization is today the largest regional organization in the world.
They failed to see how the 2008 financial crisis undermined the credibility of Western financial institutions, and rightly so. That was a second breaking point.
They did not see how on the other side of the world the BRICS was created — the cooperation between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — in response to that global financial crisis.
They did not see how the pandemic of 2020 created ruptures. That little micro thing, COVID-19, spread across the planet at lightning speed, without caring about borders. But in the response to COVID-19, walls were indeed erected. Big Pharma from the West refused to lift the patents on the vaccine. That is a third breach.
They failed to see how cooperation for the development of free vaccines on the other side of the world only increased.
They have not seen how the rest of the world reacts differently to the war in Ukraine than the West. And I do not mean condemning Russia’s invasion, a violation of international law, a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. In the Global South, they know only too well how important sovereignty is.
If we can get the mutiny of the North to lend a hand to the mutiny of the South, and vice versa, we can turn the world around, in the democratic, social, and ecological direction this planet needs.
They have not seen, much less understood, why so many countries have refused to go along with the sanctions. That is a fourth breaking point. Economic sanctions, embargo, shutting down the SWIFT interbank system and freezing central bank reserves. Everyone knows that all those sanctions can be used against other countries tomorrow, and in fact have been used against different countries for years, just think of the criminal embargo and blockade against Cuba.
With those four breaking points, the war against Iraq in 2003, the financial crisis in 2008, the pandemic in 2002, and the war in Ukraine in 2020, our world has changed profoundly.
Recently, Fiona Hill, a former staff member of the US National Security Council, said that the vote of countries of the Global South against the sanctions against Russia is nothing but “mutiny”. Mutiny.
They call it mutiny that for the first time in history, BRICS countries’ share of world output exceeds that of the G7.
They call it mutiny that with regional alliances, with increasing South-South trade, with the creation of the BRICS bank, countries of the Global South can now choose between Chinese, Brazilian, Indian, or Western contracts to build their universities, schools, bridges, and hospitals.
They call it mutiny that the unipolar era of the United States is quietly coming to an end.
The world is changing, and we are seeing the convulsions of a descending world order. The United States is retreating into protectionism and a new trade war. They want to reduce world trade to a zero-sum game, with only one winner and one loser. They want to force everyone to choose camp in a new Cold War, which benefits no one. They want to battle it out for batteries and semiconductors, and for precious resources like lithium. They want the Global South of the planet to meekly adhere to a role of exporter of raw materials to the imperial centre.
In that context, the question is what role the European Union will take on. Europe must find its own democratic path, separate from the United States and separate from its own colonial and neo-colonial past. Whether it is the debt issue, energy and climate transition, dependence on the dollar, recognition and reparation for slavery, or the militarization imposed by NATO.
We are at a tipping point in history. It is a pity Jeremy Corbyn cannot be here, he would have been able to bear witness to the tremendous struggle movement going on in the UK. There were more people on strike in the UK last year than in the 1970s, in more sectors. The class struggle in Europe goes up and down, like the waves of the sea. But it is there. If we can get the mutiny of the North to lend a hand to the mutiny of the South, and vice versa, we can turn the world around, in the democratic, social, and ecological direction this planet needs.
I thank you.