The EU's ambassador to Canada, Mexico's many consulates in the US and a controversial new law in Spain.
In a way, Marie-Anne Coninsx had it easy. The European Union’s ambassador to Canada arrived in Ottawa just a month before the EU signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) the largest free trade agreement in Canada’s history – most of the heavy lifting had already been done.
Selling the deal is the next task, something the Belgian-born Cambridge law graduate is doing with gusto. “It’s the most ambitious comprehensive agreement that the EU has ever done with a third country; it’ll bring benefits of trade, investments and jobs to both sides,” says Coninsx of the deal, which is expected to increase bilateral trade by almost a quarter: €26bn a year.
That trade is the most important part of Coninsx’s remit is reflected in the surroundings of her office. Situated on the 19th floor of a building in Ottawa’s business district, the embassy could be mistaken for a financial firm were it not for the EU flags at the entrance. Coninsx also wears a discreet EU badge on her jacket.
When monocle meets her three months after her move to Ottawa, the sense of transition is obvious in the spacious corner office. The polished dark wood shelves behind Coninsx’s desk are still somewhat empty. Framed photos of her meetings with prime minister Stephen Harper and governor General David Johnston as well as Inuit souvenirs from her recent trip to Nunavut sit next to a humorous collage of Coninsx on top of a flying plane – a farewell gift from her previous posting as ambassador to Mexico.
As important as the trade deal is, Coninsx feels more can be done to sell the idea of the EU to Canada. “Even though the European delegation to Canada has been around since 1976, there are still a lot of unknowns about the union,” she says. “I want to reach out to Canadians and inform them about the EU, its organisation as well as current EU-Canada relations.”
A career EU diplomat, now in her 30th year, Coninsx has been previously posted in New York and Geneva. Prior to Mexico, she was heading the unit at the External Relations Department of the European Commission, overseeing the relations between the EU and Latin America.
“When I was in Mexico it was my first posting as an ambassador. It was a very useful training for my post here in Canada. Mexico, as well as Canada, is a strategic partner of the EU. And it’s important to note that the Union has only 10 strategic partners of which four are in the Americas: Brazil, the US, Mexico and Canada,” she says.
Though not officially an embassy, the head of the mission is ranked as ambassador. The Montréal office was established in 2005.
There are currently 24 staff in both Ottawa and Montréal offices.
Obtaining a permanent observer status at the Arctic Council is a key priority for the EU. Canada is not keen, partly due to the EU’s ban on seal products.
In the US, Mexico takes a juggernaut approach to diplomacy. It has 50 consular offices in the county, more than any other nation, serving 11.4 million people born in Mexico. There are 10 consulates in California and six in Texas, and Mexico operates mobile offices for people living in more far-flung places. Ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora notes that around six million Mexicans in the US are undocumented but the consulates still have a “responsibility for their dignity”. The outposts provide the usual birth and marriage certificates, passports, and a point of contact in times of difficulty but they also work to convey Mexico’s point of view in the immigration reform debate. “Net migration to the US from Mexico since 2010 is negative. There are more Mexicans going back home than coming… We have to make these points understood by those who shape policy negotiations,” says Medina Mora.
Spanish judges have long crusaded for international justice but that may change after reforms to Spain’s Universal Justice law were pushed through parliament. In February, a Spanish judge issued arrest warrants for five Chinese leaders after a dual Spanish-Tibetan monk brought a case alleging genocide, torture and terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s. The Chinese rebuke was swift and trade sanctions threatened.
Amid much protest from the opposition and judiciary, the government rushed through an amendment allowing judges to launch investigations only if the defendant “is Spanish or a foreigner who frequently resides in Spain”.