During the election campaign, the future president clearly distanced himself from Brazil and called President Lula an “angry communist.” What can we expect regarding relations between the two states and a possible EU-Mercosur agreement?
Brazil is Argentina’s most important trading partner. Generally speaking, relations between the two South American G20 countries are important not only for trade policy reasons, but also for the geopolitical balance of Latin America. But bilateral relations will experience very difficult times. Milei not only called Lula a “communist,” but also called him “corrupt” – so far no apology has been received in Brazil that would be necessary for at least an officially diplomatic relationship. Milei also invited former President Bolsonaro to the inauguration BEFORE current President Lula, an unprecedented decision for Argentina, if not for all of Latin America, and which shows the strong antipathy towards the large and incumbent government of its big neighbor.
The EU-Mercosur deal will not happen. During his election campaign, Milei trashed Mercosur and threatened to leave the bloc. But the Mercosur-EU deal has actually been off the table since this week – since the Rio summit – for the foreseeable future – and perhaps forever. Brazil and Spain had been working on this for months, hoping to reach an agreement. But in recent days, Argentine President Alberto Fernández and French President Emmanuel Macron have publicly spoken out against the measure. Ultimately, the “stab in the back” for the Mercosur-EU deal did not come from the person most observers expected: in a pragmatic tone, Milei said some days after his November 19 election victory that he generally supported a free trade agreement. And finally we must not forget that France is still opposed to the agreement.
What is far more important, however, is that under Milei there will be no selling or pillaging of Argentina’s resources such as lithium, precious metals and other raw materials in the false name of freedom. The financial situation is so miserable that the porcelain has to be sold. But Milei does not aim to develop employment, environmental protection or social peace. And Europe? What is closest to Europeans? Your own shirt that requires these resources for the energy transition in the name of the environment, or a common approach that benefits the majority of people on both continents? How far does our solidarity extend?
Is Argentina at risk of experiencing a social division similar to that of Bolsonaro’s Brazil, to which Milei is sometimes compared?
The social divide has existed for years. There is even a very specific word to designate it in Argentina: grieta. This means an insurmountable distance between the previously progressive Peronist and non-Peronist camp and the conservative camp. A grand coalition like that of Germany is therefore not conceivable. Milei essentially eliminated this division on the campaign trail by taking a stand against political caste, by which he meant both camps equally and found a lot of support because many Argentines are very unhappy. But after the elections, we meet another Milei, the one who must negotiate with the conservative elite. It is thus part of the existing political division.
Nevertheless, we can expect even greater polarization of social groups, classes and their concerns, and even greater confrontation. However, if Milei fails to meet his expectations in a few months, especially among his voters from the poorest income categories who are hoping for dollars and an improvement in their situation, they can very quickly turn against him. The culture of criticism and protest in public space is very strong in Argentina. And we can really hope that the new government will not abuse the state security apparatus.