Awkward Partner

Luis Rubio

Brexit is not the sole challenge that the European Union (EU) faces. Although the United Kingdom was always an awkward partner, there are other nations that engender permanent tensions. Some obvious cases include those of regions seeking autonomy, such as Catalonia, but in recent years it is the Eastern European nations that have become the headaches. Hungary long ago broke with the protocol of democratic civility, which is perhaps the heart, at least in the emotional sense, of the EU, but presently Poland is the nation that has been at the forefront in terms of challenging the key supports of the regional organization. To become a member of the EU, an aspirant must homologate its entire legal, even constitutional, structure, with the rules dictated by Brussels; however, of late, the Supreme Court in Warsaw (which no one considers independent of its government) emitted a decree that diverse European regulations were not in agreement with the Polish Constitution. The Polish government has no intention whatsoever of abandoning the EU but its ongoing permanence clashes with the essence of the European project. While the U.K. split off with a single stroke, Poland is seen as an increasingly awkward and incompatible partner. I wonder whether Mexico is beginning to appear this way to our two North American partners.

The European project is very different in structure and nature from the North American Trade Agreement. The explicit objective of the nations that made up the European Economic Community (EEC) with the Treaty of Rome in 1957 was that of advancing toward political integration under the premise that constant interaction on all planes -economic, labor, and political- would eliminate the propensity to incur in bellicose aggressions such as those the continent had already undergone twice in the 20th century.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its successor, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), espouses no greater pretension or purpose than that of integrating industrial processes, establishing clear regulations for commercial exchange and for investments among the three countries. To this end, the contract that unites the three nations establishes the mechanisms for the functioning of the border crossings, as well as the resolution of controversies and disputes.

The sphere in which both regions, Europe and North America, indeed do share a common aspiration lies in strengthening institutions and capacities for developing their newest and most vulnerable partners. Nations previously forming part of the Soviet bloc that applied for their incorporation into the EU perceived that access as a way of transforming themselves, consolidating their economies and securing an anchor for their democracy. In the same dimension, the Mexican proposal to negotiate a schema like that which the United States had agreed on with Canada was understood by the U.S. as an opportunity to serve as a bulwark for the transformation that Mexico had undertaken in prior years and to contribute to its consolidation.

Independently of the contrasting aims, the original nations that assumed these regional mechanisms shared a similar history and levels of development (Germany, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Luxembourg, and Canada and the U.S., respectively). Notwithstanding this, both regions responded to the emergence of the right set of circumstances to underpin neighboring nations with eminently distinct characteristics. They did so out of self-interest: they also gained by having stronger neighbors.

The discussion among the original members within the European Union is what to do with nations like Poland and those that will accumulate over time. With the experience that already exists of a nation that withdrew from the bloc, the U.K., European politicians are starting to address the contrast between a bad marriage and a good divorce. Though many deplore the exit of England, they now are beginning to see it as a lesser evil when faced with the inherent complexity of a partner that does not take its leave but that constitutes a perennial pain in the neck, in addition to its being susceptible to infecting other nations in the vicinity.

For three decades, Mexico maintained, at least formally, the goal of expediting integration as a mechanism to elevate productivity and, with that, the population’s incomes, and the country’s development. Not much was done in this respect -not even providing incentives for ever more regions, activities and enterprises to actively participate in the regional mechanism- but, until recently, there has been no divergence in the general vision of the future.

Lopez Obrador’s government does not share this view of the future and each of its acts and initiatives points to an ever-greater divergence. There’s no doubt that legislation in matters like electricity could come to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, consecrating Mexico as the region’s awkward partner. No one is in search of a divorce, but they despise the inability and unwillingness of the Mexican government to confront and resolve its problems or of further adding to them. Inevitably, Mexico’s partners will protect their companies from the arbitrary (and counterproductive) measures of the government and will devote themselves to preventing insecurity, corruption and migration from crossing their borders.

Instead of respect that the Mexican President so much craves, Mexico will see blockages, and rather than cooperation a strategy of defense. Hand in hand will come further poverty and less economic growth. Some success.
a quick-translation of this article can be found at