The large oil painting “As Mulatas” right next to the Presidential Office in Palacio do Planalto is riddled with holes, like someone stabbed it. Elsewhere in the government palace in the Brazilian capital, mirrors, window panes and sinks are missing. These are the traces of the uprising with which the angry supporters of ex-president Jair Bolsonaro recently wanted to force a violent change of power here. But at least the official residence of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been prepared to receive state guests.
The 77-year-old took office on January 1st. It is his third term in government altogether, from 2003 to 2010 Lula, as the people in Brazil usually just call him, was the president of his country. Now he’s back and with him Brazil on the world stage.
Under Lula’s predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, South America’s largest nation had disappeared into foreign policy isolation. Lula wants to undo that. Just last week he was in Buenos Aires at a meeting of Latin American countries. He will soon be traveling to Washington, but before that he will be the host himself. It’s not a mandatory date for Lula, you quickly realize that, but a happy event, but more on that in a moment.
Scholz invites Lula to Berlin
For the Federal Chancellor, the soldiers are lined up on the long ramp that leads to the entrance to the official residence of the Brazilian presidents, and Lula, the head of the house, greets them with a handshake. The joint appearance of Olaf Scholz and Lula is delayed a little because both men talk privately for a long time, which was not foreseen in the protocol.
When they finally show up for the press conference, Lula decrees that there are no opening statements because he prefers to answer questions right away. Then he changes his mind and at least allows Scholz to recite a few prepared sentences. “Dear Lula,” says Scholz after this rustic start. He invites Brazil’s president and his cabinet to government consultations in Berlin in the fall.
The Chancellor says he wants to open a new chapter in relations with Brazil, announces millions for the protection of the rainforest, new efforts for an agreement between the EU and the South American community of states Mercosur and confirms that both countries are united in condemning the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. In any case, after the Bolsonaro years, it is gratifying from the Chancellor’s point of view that Brazil is once again involved in international politics. “You were missing,” he says. Lula walks up to him and hugs him.
It is the end and culmination of a trip that previously took the Chancellor to Argentina and Chile. Scholz campaigned in Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile for economic cooperation, which he called “fair” and which, from a German perspective, should primarily bring energy and raw materials for a future without fossil fuels. Because Lula is the president of the largest country in the region and, more generally, a spokesman for the South, the visit to Brasilia carries particular weight. But the joint appearance of Chancellor and President also shows that Lula is an idiosyncratic, sometimes unpredictable interlocutor.
Lula wants improvements to the EU-Mercosur agreement
Whereby the greatest agreement still seems to lie in free trade. At every stage of his journey, Scholz confirmed that he finally wanted progress on the trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur. “We want to make progress there,” says Scholz in Brasília.
Lula agrees in principle, but also expresses a desire for improvements, for example in agriculture and the protection of small businesses. But he wants to be flexible and hopes that the Europeans will be flexible too. Then he surprisingly names the goal of an agreement by the middle of the year. “You can feel the president’s enthusiasm,” says Scholz about the ambitious schedule.
On the other hand, there are larger differences when it comes to Ukraine. Scholz sticks to his line: he declares Russia’s attack on the neighboring country an attack on the international legal order, which is why this is a global problem and not just a European one. While Lula doesn’t deny this, she does have a different focus. He rejects the German request that Brazil supply ammunition for Gepard tanks for use in Ukraine. He doesn’t even want to be indirectly involved in this war, he says. “Brazil is a country of peace.”
Instead, Lula worries about who might act as an intermediary. He would be happy to make himself available. At first, that sounds more absurd than it is, because the Brazilian president has proven time and again in the past that he can bring different parties to the table, in South America as well as in the Middle East.
However, Lula also has things to do in her own country. The investigation into the attack by supporters of right-wing ex-president Jair Bolsonaro on the government district at the beginning of January still has to be worked out and not even all the damage has yet been repaired. In short: Brazil’s president will first have enough to do in his own country before he can take care of other conflicts.
Lula defends his criticism of Zelensky
Lula is also calling on China to “get on with it and help.” A format in which several states come together and ask Russia and Ukraine to sit at one table is also conceivable – Lula mentions different sizes, G 10, G 15, G 20. In any case, the world needs peace now. “One no longer knows exactly why there is this war at all.”
Lula also defended his controversial statement last year that the West and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky were complicit in the war. “There’s a Brazilian proverb,” says the President: “If one doesn’t want to, two can’t argue.” On the other hand, he says Russia made a “classic mistake” in its attack on Ukraine – it started something and now it doesn’t know how to stop it.
At the end, Scholz emphasized the “clear common position” again as a precaution, according to which “we condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine”. For him there can be no peace across Ukraine. Russia must withdraw its troops, it must not appropriate foreign territory.
Little is said about the protection of the rainforest. Lula announces that she will crack down on those who illegally exploit resources in jungle reserves. He also wants to use the military for this. Scholz refers to an aid package worth 200 million euros with which the federal government wants to help Lula protect the rainforest in the Amazon in the first 100 days of his term.
A large part of the money is to flow into reforestation, the rest also into a newly created fund for forest protection Fundo Floresta, which aims to support the local population in the sustainable use of the forest. Not all the money comes directly from the federal government, but also from funds that were frozen years ago because of the catastrophic environmental policy of predecessor Jair Bolsonaro and have now been released again when Lula took office.
Before both men say goodbye with another hug, Lula makes one more request. Germany should not come back to Brazil and win 7-1 in football – like in 2014 at the World Cup. Next time, according to the President’s wishes, it should end 0-0.