Opinion & Analysis

The EU & Lula: A New Age of Cooperation


Based on an interview with RUSI’s Dr Carlos Solar, this Info Flash explores the implications of the rise to power of Brazil’s new president, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. Commonly seen as the antithesis of the previous president, Jair Bolsonaro, Lula has already made significant changes to Brazil’s position on the global stage since his inauguration five months ago. It is likely that there will be a growth in the investment of EU-Brazil cooperation, which will, in turn, affect European politics, economies, and even security. Though Lula’s approach to politics is generally more accepted in Europe, issues may arise due to Brazil’s neutrality towards Russia’s war on Ukraine. The final section of the text touches on cybersecurity, as significant advancements were made in Lula’s previous term as president. The field is relatively developed in Latin America, and investing in it can be beneficial for European security. — This piece was based on an interview conducted with Dr Carlos Solar, Senior Research Fellow focusing on Latin American security at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). A transcript of the interview can be found following the article.

The Situation in Brazil and its Relevance to the EU

On January 1, 2023, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, also known as simply Lula was inaugurated as the President of Brazil (Delivorias & Lazarou, 2023). Previously, he held two terms in office from 2003 to 2010 (Waisbich et al., 2022). A prominent member of the Workers’ Party, his stance on social, political, and economic issues are often in line with the European Union’s liberal values (Nolte, 2023). Additionally, the policies implemented during his terms made Brazil a key player in world politics and marked what some argue was a “Golden Age” in Brazilian diplomacy (Waisbich et al., 2022). Conversely, former president Jair Bolsonaro strained Brazil’s relationship with the EU due to a lack of harmony between his approach to politics and that of the EU (Nolte, 2023). This includes his lack of investment in the protection of the Amazon rainforest and neglect of the situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the country (Nowak, 2023). These challenges were exacerbated by his anti-diplomatic and anti-democratic positioning (Nowak, 2023). In the domestic scene, Brazil is experiencing critical times as the country is plagued with extreme polarization. The population is, in essence, divided between Lula and Bolsonaro supporters, and dialogue between the two groups is rare (Giacomozzi et al., 2022). This phenomenon reached a point of extreme violence on January 8 of this year, when Bolsonaro’s supporters raided the Congress buildings in order to protest against Lula’s presidential victory (Delivorias & Lazarou, 2023). Accordingly, the situation in Brazil has significant implications for Europe despite its geographical distance. Apart from being home to the world’s largest rainforest, whose protection is important in the EU’s agenda– and in addition to being a key trade partner for Europe – Brazil has been a strategic partner to the EU since 2007 (EEAS, 2021). This Strategic Partnership encompasses aspects such as sustainability, human rights and security, and the rule of law (EEAS, 2021). Therefore, the current unstable situation in Brazil may have important implications for European armies; for example, Brazil is part of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) regional bloc, with whom the EU also cooperates (EEAS, 2018). EU-CELAC relations implicate political and economic issues and are mutually beneficial, though they are often centred on the EU providing support for CELAC countries (EEAS, 2018).

A new age of Brazil-EU Relations and Military Implications

When it was announced that Lula had won the 2022 Brazilian presidential elections, leaders from all over Europe expressed their satisfaction, including French President Macron, Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez, and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (Al Jazeera, 2022). Notably, many of them alluded to the idea that this marks a new age for Brazil that welcomes advancements through dialogue regarding issues such as climate change, which, as aforementioned, Bolsonaro notoriously neglected (Al Jazeera, 2022; Nolte, 2023). However, Dr Solar explains that Lula’s victory might not automatically put Brazil into a position of respect vis-à-vis the EU, and it is crucial that Lula works to make the country’s standing on the world stage more legitimate. An important gesture is to show commitment to democracy and to change the narrative of distrust that has been built over Bolsonaro’s term towards Brazil’s democratic institutions.

The issue of democracy stems from Bolsonaro’s anti-democratic rhetoric, illustrated by the January 8 attack on Brazil’s Congress building, an act that resembled the storming of Capitol Hill in the United States two years before (Delivorias & Lazarou, 2023). Bolsonaro’s supporters distrusted the validity of the election results, which led to the attack (EIU, 2023). A key difference between the attack on Capitol Hill and this one is that the Brazilian armed forces were involved in the attack, deepening the severity and significance of the incident (Oxford Analytica, 2023). It was clearly an attack on democracy, and with Brazil being the fourth most populous democracy in the world, it is an event of international importance (EIU, 2022; World Population Review, 2023). It is, therefore, in Europe’s interest to take appropriate measures to prevent another attack of the sort from taking place in Brazil again, which would further undermine the value of democracy that the EU embraces. Accordingly, Dr Solar explains that the EU has programmes in the continent that tackle hate speech online, and it is generally successful at tackling extremism and radicalism. Just as Lula is expected to invest in democratic institutions in Brazil, Dr Solar states that it would also be important for the EU to use its soft power to push for stronger democracy in Brazil.

The Brazilian armed forces are also a key factor to be considered. With Bolsonaro’s engagement with the military, the armed forces gained significant power to negotiate with traditional politics during his term. On this issue, Dr Solar adds that the boundaries of civil-military relations significantly decreased as a result of Bolsonaro’s politics. It is then possible to question if the Brazilian military will face significant changes in its relations with other countries. The EU, however, establishes relationships with governments and not militaries, but armies can set cooperative relationships with other armies around the world. Therefore, it is up to European armies to establish stronger relationships if they want to influence the military future of Brazil, while the EU’s power is limited to simply attempting to convince the Brazilian army to invest more in democracy through dialogue. Dr Solar adds that there will be a long-term shift in the relationships that Lula will prioritise. The EU should also expect that Brazil will invest more in its bilateral relationships with countries like Russia, India, and China, as Lula will likely realign Brazil’s international agenda with multilateralism. Accordingly, he will likely limit the investment in relationships that Bolsonaro was devoted to, such as the United States.

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About the Author 

Mariana Fagotti was a research trainee at Finabel from February to April 2023; she is now the Legal Manager at Finabel.