The EU looks askance at Javier Milei's victory in Argentina | International

The EU looks askance at Javier Milei's victory in Argentina
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Congratulations on your victory in the Argentine elections have been long in coming from the European Union and, when they have arrived, they have been, to say the least, lacking in enthusiasm. The conquest of the Casa Rosada by Javier Milei is worrying in Brussels and not only because of the enormous unknown it represents regarding the negotiations on the already complicated trade agreement with Mercosur, the large bloc made up of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay in Latin America. The advance, once again, of an ultra and unpredictable voice - just when the EU was breathing a sigh of relief due to the departure of Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro - once again calls into question achievements in matters as diverse as the environment, the rights of minorities, women or democracy itself. This concern is transmitted in messages expressed outside the microphones.

“Congratulations to the new president-elect. The Argentine people have spoken in free and democratic elections,” tweeted the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, late on Monday morning. In a rather sober message, the Belgian, who highlighted the “excellent cooperation” with the outgoing president, Alberto Fernández, also expressed his hope to “continue this cooperation, for the good” of the Argentine and European people. Beyond commercial interests, Argentina (a member of the G-20) has until now been an important ally for the EU on the European international agenda, in which it has supported key agreements such as the UN Global Compact on Migration or the Agreements of Paris on climate change.

Hence, the congratulations of the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, have also been an exercise in equidistance. Argentines have voted in “democratic, peaceful and orderly” elections, he has acknowledged, and they have done so just when the country “celebrates 40 years of democracy,” he has stated without entering, however, into the controversial statements of the president-elect regarding of human rights violations committed during the Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983).

The South American country “is an important global actor and the EU hopes to work with the new administration to address global challenges,” added Borrell, who has also expressed his hope that Milei will not hinder the EU-Mercosur agreement. “The incoming Government of Argentina, which will take office amid challenging economic circumstances, can count on the EU to continue strengthening our alliance to deliver positive results for our societies, including finalizing negotiations, as soon as possible, of the EU Association Agreement. -Mercosur”, he indicated.

Officially, the EU maintains its objective of closing the trade agreement with Mercosur before the end of the year, as set by the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who visited Buenos Aires in June. “The negotiations are underway (…) we continue working towards the goal of reaching the agreement before the end of the year,” a spokesperson for the European Executive stressed in this regard at the Commission's daily press conference.

But far from the microphones, doubts abound in European institutions about the potential impact on the negotiations of the victory of a candidate who has declared Mercosur “stuck”; that he has openly confronted the Government of Brazilian Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva - the main partner of the South American alliance -; and that he has described the bloc's agreement with the EU as a "low-quality customs union that leads to trade diversion and harms its members."

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“The problem is no longer the Argentine Government's negotiations on the agreement, the problem is the continuity of Mercosur itself, we do not know what will become of Mercosur as such,” acknowledges socialist MEP Javi López, president of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly.

For the German Minister of Food and Agriculture, Cem Özdemir, Milei's victory should be an incentive to "speed up" the negotiations in the face of the advance of populism and forces "that have another agenda, that want the authoritarians to prevail." Upon his arrival at the Council of Agriculture Ministers in Brussels, Özdemir warned: “It is a sign that we have to hurry, that the negotiations are not going to be easier, but more difficult; Populism is increasing both there and here.”

Ciudadanos MEP Jordi Cañas, president of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Mercosur, recognizes that Milei's criticism of this commercial and investment project casts “shadows of concern.” But he considers that "it is still possible" to close an agreement and advocates separating the Milei candidate from the future president and giving him a vote of confidence because, he remembers that "on specific relations with the EU he has not been especially critical." In this sense, he is convinced that, once in power, "reality will force him to send messages of calm, especially in international politics, and what better message of calm than to say that we are not going to question what the previous team and we are going to try to make this work.”

A possibility that López doubts. “The radical right has rewritten the rules of politics. “This manual of traditional politics about how candidates later, when they are presidents, moderate their behavior and policies has been blown up,” he says, referring to Donald Trump or Bolsonaro, who “were not more moderate or pragmatic presidents than we thought.” “They were like candidates.” In his opinion, Milei generates, not only in the EU, “enormous skepticism”, especially with regard to its economic policy; but also concern about other statements or opinions, such as “the denial of climate change, against all international consensus,” or her speech about democracy “calling into question the 30,000 disappeared” during the Argentine dictatorship. The sentiment in much of Europe and beyond, she summarizes, is “a mix between respect and caution, but also alarm and skepticism.”

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