On Crumbling Ground

In Brazil, Berlin seeks to expand cooperation with Lula, to make up for its loss of influence in that country. Think tank discerns growing distance between EU und Latin America.

BRASÍLIA/BERLIN (Own report) – Berlin reacted with relief, when the movement to overthrow the Brazilian government was crushed. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz affirms “we stand closely by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.” According to reports, Scholz is planning to visit the South American country soon. Berlin is seeking to use the changeover in the Brazilian presidency from Jair Messias Bolsonaro to Lula to bolster German influence in Brazil, which has been significantly declining over the past years. As a recent analysis of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) notes, the German government must face the fact that Berlin's and the EU's policy have led to serious friction, not only in Brazil, but also throughout Latin America, over the past few years. Its refusal to supply Covid-19 vaccines, while simultaneously campaigning against Chinese vaccines, for example, has not exactly aroused sympathy for the EU. The policy of sanctions against Russia is also rejected on the subcontinent. SWP explicitly warns, “common ground is crumbling.”

“Post-American Latin America”

The loss of German influence over the past few years is behind the attempts to use the beginning of Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s incumbency to bolster German and European influence in Brazil. With a share of 9.4 percent, Germany had been the country’s third most important supplier in 2002. Its share has since seriously slumped to currently account for only 5.1 percent. On the other hand, China’s portion of Brazil’s imports has rapidly grown to 22.8 percent, tendency rising, far ahead of the USA (17.7 percent). With 31.3 percent, as the recipient of Brazilian exports, China is miles ahead of second place United States (11.2 percent). The West’s influence is also dwindling politically. Washington, for example was unsuccessful in convincing Brazil to forego the use of China’s Huawei 5G technology. Only in government networks will Huawei components not be used. In reference to the North American and European waning influence in Latin America, last year, the flagship US Foreign Affairs journal coined the phrase the “post-American Latin America.”[1]

“Rhetoric Based on Wishful Thinking”

In an analysis published at the end of last year, the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) pointed out that, in addition to the declining economic influence, the political divergencies between Europe and Latin America are significantly growing. “Narratives” postulating for example “shared values, strategic partnership, and dialogue at eye level” are “rhetoric based on wishful thinking,” doing “less and less justice” to reality. “The common ground is crumbling.”[2] SWP attributes this to the experience made during the Covid-19 pandemic, which hit Latin America particularly hard. With only eight per cent of the world’s population, it accounts for about 12.5 per cent of all Covid-19 infections and about 26 per cent of Covid-19 deaths on a global scale. It received virtually no vaccines from the EU. “Low-cost vaccines from Russia and China could be imported and administered particularly quickly and on a large scale,” SWP notes. The EU countries reacted, by “strongly criticizing Moscow’s and Beijing’s 'vaccine diplomacy' towards the Global South.” At the same time, they did not recognize Russian and Chinese vaccines for entry into the EU. Latin American countries clearly saw this as an “expression of Europe’s egoism that was far removed from its usual declarations of solidarity,” SWP notes.

“A Strategy of the Powerful”

According to SWP, the war in Ukraine and the dispute over sanctions against Russia have created new differences. As the Berlin-based think tank writes, over the past few years, “the expansion of their (primarily economic) relations” with countries, such as China, but also, for example Russia and Iran, offered Latin American states an “opportunity for foreign policy and foreign economic diversification.” The fact that western powers are now calling on the whole of Latin America – Brazil included – to support the “counter-strategy of strength – which relies on isolation, sanctions, and rearmament – chosen by the EU and the NATO,” has therefore been widely rejected by the states of the subcontinent.[3] From the perspective of the Latin American countries, the efforts to globally isolate Russia politically and economically “only conveys the European view and declares a war that is limited to the European continent to be a turning point in international politics.” Besides, targeted “exclusion” is seen “as a strategy of the powerful that could be turned against their own countries in the future,” notes SWP. That region has accumulated ample experience – particularly in Cuba and Venezuela.

Steinmeier’s Charm Offensive

Berlin is attempting to use Lula’s inauguration to bolster its influence, for now, in Brazil, the most powerful country in South America. German President Frank Walter Steinmeier visited Brazil at the turn of the year, to participate in Lula’s inauguration. He had energetically – and ultimately, successfully – campaigned to have an audience with the current president before the event. A “charm offensive,” it was later labeled.[4] According to reports, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is also due to visit Brazil, to intensify bilateral cooperation. Efforts to curb the deforestation of the Amazon region’s rain forests will probably be the focus of that visit. For this purpose, Berlin is again contributing to the Amazon Fund, which is intended to promote sustainable projects in the region. In 2019, German contributions were halted because of the then President Jair Messias Bolsonaro’s deforestation policy. In addition, Berlin is hoping to rapidly conclude the free trade agreement with Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay), in particular, to be able to intensify trade with Brazil. Ratification also failed due to protests against Bolsonaro’s administration and particularly in opposition to his Amazon policy.


In a statement published in late 2022, the SWP advised “not only to resume cooperation, but also to restructure it.” For example, “joint technological development” or even “a sustainable use of resources” could be promoted.[5] However, SWP also explicitly points out that Brazil, under Lula, will not simply side with the West in current global power struggles. Lula does not want to “position his country at any one of the poles in the field of tension between Washington and Peking,” predicts the think tank. He would “react to new geopolitical challenges (...) with Brazil taking an autonomy-oriented position, thereby, taking up particularly positions of the global south. In fact, in early May, Lula made it clear that, though he rejects Russia’s intervention into Ukraine, Moscow, however, is not the only one to blame: Because they insisted on having Ukraine join NATO, which for Russia was impossible to accept, “the USA and the EU share the blame.”[6] If he sticks to this position – as expected – then Western domination over the Latin American subcontinent will continue to crumble during his administration.


[1] See also Power Shifts in Latin America and Die Lateinamerika-Offensive der EU.

[2], [3] Günther Maihold, Tania Muscio Blanco, Claudia Zilla: Von gemeinsamen Werten zu komplementären Interessen. SWP-Aktuell 2022/A 78. Berlin, 15.12.2022.

[4] Charmeoffensive bei Lula. tagesschau.de 02.01.2023.

[5] Günther Maihold: Lulas Rückkehr an die Macht in Brasilien. SWP-Aktuell 2022/A 81. Berlin, 21.12.2022.

[6] Ciara Nugent: Lula Talks to TIME About Ukraine, Bolsonaro, and Brazil’s Fragile Democracy. time.com 04.05.2022.