The political potential of EU-LAC Triangular Cooperation

Research study prepared by the Elcano Royal Institute, supported by SEGIB and the EU, on the strategic importance of TC.

This study, which conclusions were recently published, aimed to identify the strategic importance countries of the European Union (EU) place on Triangular Cooperation (TC) with Latin-America and the Caribbean (LAC), i.e., its capacity to contribute to the achievement of their foreign policy objectives. The research was carried out by the Elcano Royal Institute and was financed by the project An Innovative Triangular Cooperation for a New Development Agenda, developed between the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB by its Spanish acronym) and the EU.

Based on a series of interviews with representatives of development cooperation institutions of the European Commission (EC) and EU Member States, the authors, Iliana Olivié and María Santillán, identified some of TC’s strengths and weaknesses. Among other benefits, the research concludes TC facilitates ownership, promotes horizontality, stimulates the generation of partnerships between different types of stakeholders and can therefore represent an innovation lab for cooperation in general. In addition, the research especially highlights its potential for political dialogue which, among other aspects, allows the EU to join the Global South debate, enables the communication with non-prioritized partners or partners with which the political relationship is sensitive, and can strengthen bi-regional dialogue.

In terms of TC’s weaknesses, the authors make emphasis on the lack of a common definition of the concept and, consequently, the absence of a global statistical system that provides comparable data. In addition, EU Member States perceive they have not yet been engaged in TC activities on an regular basis and that associated transaction costs are high. Furthermore, Olivié and Santillán understand TC is still limited to the technical (not political) levels of cooperation.

Finally, the study suggests a series of recommendations to take better advantage of the potential of this modality and minimize its weaknesses. First, it proposes to make progress, based on consensus with traditional donors and the Global South as a whole, or at least within the EU, on a common definition and on measurement mechanisms that consider its differences with other cooperation modalities. In addition, it is specifically suggested to reflect on the concept of transaction costs, and to differentiate it from development results or investments in the medium and long term, for example, regarding the institutional strengthening of other partners.

The above could increase TC’s political profile, for which it is also suggested to promote a new narrative which emphasizes the strengths that were already mentioned. This should also contribute to make it more geographically cross-cutting, to provide it with the necessary human resources, to raise its importance within institutions, to give greater visibility to its results and to allocate a greater volume of resources.

Finally, in order to fully maximize TC’s transformative potential, the research proposes to broaden projects’ scale (without neglecting inclusiveness and horizontality), increase their number and work on their replicability. This could be promoted by the EC by incorporating TC into its existing portfolio of cooperation instruments, in addition to leveraging Team Europe Initiatives.

Please visit the following link read the complete study:

July 2023


Source: Olivié, I. and Santillán, M. (2023): Cooperation, development and political value. Triangular Cooperation between the European Union and Latin-America. Elcano Royal Institute, Madrid.

Photo: SEGIB (2022).