EU-LAC: Taking our digital alliance to the next level


Interview with Félix Fernández-Shaw, Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Partnerships
Cover Photo
The EU-LAC Digital Alliance Days took place on 27-29 November 2023. Credit: AECID/D4D Hub

In the next two years, the European Union (EU) and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have the unique opportunity to step up their collaboration in the digital field. Together, they can push for a joint vision to leverage digital technologies and innovation to increase people’s well-being and development.

This was the main message delivered by Félix Fernández-Shaw, Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Partnerships, at the EU-LAC Digital Alliance Days – a high-level policy dialogue between EU and LAC representatives that took place in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, from 27 to 29 November 2023.

“Last July, the political leaders of both regions met in Brussels for the third EU-CELAC Summit and signed a joint declaration endorsing the EU-LAC Digital Alliance,” he explained during an interview with the D4D Hub. “The declaration sets out a roadmap for bi-regional cooperation on a human-centric digital transformation, where the Global Gateway will act as the motor to implement innovative projects.”

The EU-LAC Digital Alliance Days’ objective was therefore to follow up on the declaration and agree on the areas to deliver concrete results by the next EU-CELAC Summit, which is expected to take place in 2025 in Colombia.

“The political mandate is clear, now we need to sit down and set the milestones that we want to achieve by 2025,” Fernández-Shaw said.

According to the representative of the European Commission, the objective of this event was to gather the people working at the ministry level to discuss “five key topics that form the basis of a digital economy and society: data governance, e-governance, cybersecurity, connectivity, and Artificial Intelligence. Within this framework, we identified specific objectives and potential activities to move forward in the implementation of the EU-LAC Digital Alliance.”

A collaboration based on our shared digital values

Fernández-Shaw explained how the European Union has adopted ambitious policies and legislation to ensure that the digital transformation remains human-centric. In practice, this means supporting innovation while tackling digital technologies’ potential harms to society. The European Union has become the global leader in tech regulation, counting with wide-ranging pieces of legislation on Artificial Intelligence, data protection, content moderation in social media platforms, and regulation of gatekeeper power of large digital companies.

“Latin America and the Caribbean countries want to cooperate with the European Union in the digital policy field because they are observing our experience and they find it interesting,” Fernández-Shaw said. “Like in Europe, governments in Latin America and the Caribbean are committed to adopting a human-centric approach to the digital transformation. It is something we have in common. Therefore, they want to learn how we are addressing this issue in the EU and identify which elements could be applied in their context.”

From the European side, policymakers are aware that the challenges and opportunities posed by the digital transformation go beyond the Union’s borders, thus international partnerships are needed to foster global collaboration and find common solutions.

Building on successful experiences

While the EU-LAC Digital Alliance was only launched in March 2023, Fernández-Shaw showcased some concrete examples where the two blocks’ joint digital ambitions are already materialising.

For instance, the BELLA fibre-optic cable will be expanded to further connect both regions and enable exchanges between companies, research centres, and education institutions. Colombia just became the latest country to announce that it will join the initiative, which already connects Europe with Costa Rica, Chile and Brazil, and it is foreseen that by 2026 it will also link to Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru, amongst other countries.

As part of the Earth-observation project Copernicus, two regional data centres are being established in Panama and Chile. These centres will facilitate exchanges of information, know-how, research, and data between the EU and LAC. The potential of their application ranges from natural disaster prevention to land use planning.

Finally, an EU-LAC Digital Accelerator will foster private sector collaboration between both regions, increasing competitiveness, skills, and innovation in the digital area. The accelerator will promote impact investments and support the delivery of e-services by both public and private entities.

According to Fernández-Shaw, these initiatives, which were presented at the EU-LAC Digital Alliance Days, have enormous transformational potential – which should be an important criterion for deciding on future projects. “In these three days, we listened to so many ideas on how we can work together. Now it is time to jointly decide with our partners in Latin America and the Caribbean where we can have more impact,” he concluded.