President Santos recently paid a visit to French president Nicolas Sarkozy with an ambitious agenda to discuss, from bilateral relations to Colombia’s entry into the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), something Bogota has been working on for the last few years.
Regarding bilateral relations, a great accomplishment has been the removal of Colombo-French Ingrid Betancourt from the agenda, which seemed to be the most important (if not the only) concern of the French government regarding Colombia. Amazingly, Sarkozy is now paying attention to something that is not even remotely French.
The prospects for admittance into the OECD look very good for Colombia: France is to some extent endorsing the proposal and it seems the world is looking at the Santos administration with welcoming eyes. But why would it be important for Colombia to enter such an organization?
This is not only to be part of a good-practices club, as Santos put it, which is quite convenient. If admitted, Colombia will have outstanding foreign aid (and pressure) to strengthen its economy and, most important of all, its state institutions: Strengthen governance, reducing corruption, enforcing the rule of law throughout the territory, etc.
As Francis Fukuyama writes, a weak state is a spawning pool for trouble, which can even cross borders and undermine other states’ security, as it happened with terrorism and, in the Colombian case, drug trafficking. Thus, state building is a top priority for Colombia, but it cannot become a nanny-state European-wise, of course, as having such a wide range of functions will not work with what little strength the Colombian state can muster presently and in the near future.
Liberalization of the economy is but a part of it, as a market economy cannot function appropriately if excesses present themselves on the part of corporations, customs agents and others who thrive in poor regulations or poor enforcing of sufficient regulations. It is thus a search for a strong state focused on the most important issues, such as security, education, rule of law, etc. It’s between the extremes of the nanny-state and letting the financial sector and the conglomerates run rampant that the Colombian state will find the institutional robustness to contribute to the economic growth and the well-being of the Colombian population.
In addition to giving support for the strengthening of institutions, joining the OECD is also a major PR move, as reassuring the international community that change is possible and it is actually underway gives Colombia more credibility for bringing in investors and deepening trade relations with the biggest economies in the world.
Playing with the big boys is Colombia’s ticket to development and the maximization of its population’s welfare.