One of the items on the agenda of the 29th Mercosur Summit, which is taking place in Montevideo, capital of Uruguay, is the installation of the Mercosur parliament.
"The small countries were unhappy over the fact that the Mercosur hasn’t brought them significant benefits," commented political scientist Marcelo Coutinho, coordinator of the South American Political Observatory at the University Research Institute of Rio de Janeiro (Iuperj).
He reports that the creation of a parliament constitutes a long-standing demand of the smaller Mercosur countries.
According to ambassador José Eduardo Felício, general undersecretary for South America in the Ministry of Foreign Relations (Itamaraty), the original plan is for the parliament to be composed of 18 representatives nominated by each country, beginning in 2006.
According to Felício, the Brazilian government believes that the countries with larger populations should be entitled to more representatives in the parliament. This issue is expected to remain in debate throughout the installation process, which should be concluded by 2014.
In Coutinho’s opinion, the matter of representation really needs to be reevaluated. "It is a serious distortion in need of revision."
He points out that the parliament will play an "important role" in settling disputes and eventual differences in the bloc. In its initial phase, the parliament will be merely advisory and opinionative. But, according to Felício, its functions will be expanded between now and 2014.
Ricardo Caldas, professor at the Political Science Institute of the University of Brasília (UnB), said that "the idea of a parliament is appealing from the political perspective."
But he argued that the Mercosur should first strengthen the customs union and the total elimination of import duties and then install the parliament.
"The parliament is desirable for a more advanced stage, not now." Regarding the Mercosur Structural Convergence Fund, another item that will be discussed at the 29th Summit, Caldas said he was surprised that Brazil will put up money.
The fund will be used to finance social, infrastructure, and regional development projects, mainly in the smaller Mercosur countries.
According to ambassador Felício, the fund is expected to receive US$ 100 million in resources by 2008. Brazil is supposed to contribute 70% of this total.
Coutinho said that Brazil’s contribution to the fund attests to the country’s leadership of the bloc. "If it fails to come across, Brazil loses its leadership," he remarked.
Coutinho concurs that the country needs to invest at home, but he observed that the money ends up returning to Brazil in other forms.
"For example, if a highway in Argentina is built with money from the fund, it helps Brazil because it makes it easier to transport merchandise to the country," he said.
According to Felício, around 48% of the fund’s resources will go to programs in Paraguay, 32% to Uruguay, and 20% to projects in Argentina and Brazil.