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Germany's Scholz urges Argentina's Milei to focus on harmony

June 23, 2024

Germany's chancellor held talks in Berlin with Argentina's populist leader Javier Milei, who has enacted radical economic reforms. The self-described anarcho-capitalist has drawn fire during his trip to Europe.

Argentinian President Javier Milei (L) with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, Germany
Milei was originally due to receive a full welcome with German military honours but it was cancelled at short noticeImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called on Argentinian President Javier Milei to employ socially acceptable policies as he rolls out a radical austerity program to try to stabilize the troubled Latin American country's economy, Scholz's official spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Sunday.

The pair held talks in Berlin as part of Milei's trip to Europe where the rightwing populist and libertarian continues to court controversy.

What did Scholz tell Milei?

During the hourlong talks between the two leaders in Berlin, Scholz emphasized that social cohesion needed to be protected as Milei's economic reforms are implemented, Hebestreit said.

Milei, a self-described anarcho-capitalist, took office in December. He has since enacted deep public sector cuts to tackle Argentina's three-digit inflation crisis.

The measures include laying off tens of thousands of civil servants and cutting fuel and transport subsidies, moves that sparked large public protests.

Argentina's 'economic shock' vote sparks protests

According to Hebestreit, both of the leaders called for a speedy end to talks on a free trade agreement between the European Union and the South American trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay.

The deal, which would create one of the world's largest free trade zones with a market of more than 700 million people, has been deadlocked since 2019.

"They agreed that the negotiations on the agreement should be concluded quickly," Hebestreit said.

Scholz also supported Argentina's accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The pair also reached a joint position on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, reaffirming that Moscow "has it in its power to end the war of aggression against Ukraine," Hebestreit added.

Press conference canceled

Argentina has large reserves of raw materials such as lithium which Germany urgently needs to transition its economy away from fossil fuels to tackle climate change.

Argentines struggle with austerity measures

A joint press conference was canceled at short notice, along with plans for Milei to be given a full military welcome. The German side said the changes were made at Milei's request.

Milei's visit to Berlin was greeted by several dozen protesters, who stood outside the Chancellery, holding posters that read: "Away with Milei."

Several civil society groups had earlier written to Scholz, demanding he cancel the talks so as not to give the ultraconservative politician a platform.

Milei snubbed, slated on Europe trip

Melei undermined relations with longtime ally Spain last month after he called Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's wife Begona Gomez corrupt.

Gomez faces allegations of corruption and influence peddling. She is accused of using her position as the prime minister's wife to secure sponsors for a university master's degree course that she ran.

Milei's remark sparked a snub by the entire Spanish government, which refused to meet him during his trip to Madrid this week.

The president then traveled to Germany on Saturday to pick up a medal from the Friedrich August von Hayek Foundation in the northern port city of Hamburg.

He collected the award from the think tank — named after the Austrian pioneer of neoliberalism — as hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the venue against his invitation. 

After Berlin, Milei is due in the Czech Republic later Sunday.

Argentina is in a deep economic crisis. Last year, the inflation rate hit almost 290% — one of the highest in the world. Around 56% of the country lives in poverty.

mm/dj (DPA, EPD)