Opinion: Lula’s protocol trip to Europe becomes an unexpected diplomatic triumph

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Opinion: Lula’s protocol trip to Europe becomes an unexpected diplomatic triumph

It is the daily bread of social democracy. At the invitation of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, associated with the SPD, a center-left German party, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the directors of the Perseu Abramo Foundation traveled to Europe.

They met in Berlin with the institution’s president, Martin Schulz, known for his engagement alongside Brazilians, and in Brussels with the center-left bloc of parties in the European Parliament, historically attentive to Latin America. In France, Lula returned to Sciences Po, where he received the title of honoris causa ten years ago, and met Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and president of the now runt Socialist Party, another historic partner of the PT on the continent.

So far, nothing surprising on the agenda of the former president, who has been in European political circles since the 1980s, when he disputed the leadership’s attention with another union leader, the Polish Lech Walesa.

More political agendas, such as a meeting with the discreet Olaf Scholz, leader of the SPD and prime minister-designate of Germany, and an audience with Pedro Sánchez, prime minister and leader of the Socialists in Spain, are also expected for the former head of the Executive of a middle power and leader of the largest social democratic party in the Global South, together with the African National Congress of South Africa.

But this Wednesday morning (17th), French President Emmanuel Macron turned the protocol trip into a diplomatic triumph. Welcomed with unusual bold protocols for an unofficial visit, Lula arrived at the Eliseu Palace for a 30-minute conversation that spanned more than an hour.

A source from the French Presidency explained that “Macron considered Lula a person with whom it was pertinent for him to meet.” In careful macronist language, “relevant” is the key word.

The Frenchman is a lone globalist, who elected himself promising to place the country at the center of the international arena, but he had to learn to live with declining leaders, like Angela Merkel, or in a permanent state of trance, in Donald Trump’s case.

Leading formulator of the mega-package of green investments in South Africa announced during the recently concluded COP26, Macron wants to use environmental policy to unite a new bloc of southern countries around the European project. Amazonian power, democracy in reconstruction and regional leadership, the Brazil conceived by Lula in Sciences Po, where Macron studied, would be a key element in the international strategy of an eventual second term of the French president.

The proximity to Lula also helps the European in his electoral ambitions. The PT member enjoys considerable prestige among the left-wing French voters, whom Macron must at all costs mobilize to escape the trap of abstaining in a likely second round against a far-right candidate in the 2022 presidential elections.

The aura of the former Brazilian president brings the president closer to Hidalgo’s supporters and the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in the same way that Barack Obama — former president whom Macron approached in the 2017 campaign — helped him consolidate his credentials among centrist voters.

All these factors spurred Macron to hang diplomatic protocol, but nothing contributed more to Wednesday’s meeting than Jair Bolsonaro’s diplomatic vandalism. It was the Brazilian president who, in 2019, exchanged an audience with the powerful French chancellor for a visit to the hairdresser and buried the agreement between the European Union and Mercosur.

Over the next few months, his supporters’ homophobic jokes about Macron spilled over onto European social media, and federal deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSL-SP), the president’s son, took advantage of the yellow vest protests to call the Frenchman an idiot.

Economy Minister Paulo Guedes went even further and attacked First Lady Brigitte Macron with misogynistic insults. Revenge is a dish that is eaten cold, preferably accompanied by a good French wine.

In the end, the contrast between Lula’s diplomatic triumph in the Franco-German space and Bolsonaro’s official trip to Arab countries could not be more stark.

In the indifference of humanity, Bolsonaro and Guedes have spent the last few days discussing niobium and graphene in palaces known for harboring decaying autocrats and honored members of the Paradise Papers list. For investors, the message is clear: Brazil enters the election year in a situation of double-headed presidency, in which a candidate dialogues with the world while the president raves in the desert.

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