BRUSSELS – Don’t mention the Malvinas!
A leaked memo has revealed “dangerous” efforts by the UK government and its top diplomat to prevent the EU from signing a document with Latin American countries that refers to the “Islas Malvinas” – the Argentinian name for Britain. – the Falkland Islands.
London and Buenos Aires fought a 10-week war over the islands in 1982. The remote islands, located 500 kilometers off the coast of Argentina, remain part of the UK, although Argentina continues to claim them as its own.
Britain stopped using the name ‘Islas Malvinas’ in a new agreement signed in Brussels this week with 60 EU and Latin American countries. It was the first meeting of the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) since Britain left the EU in 2020. Previously, the UK could have vetoed language it disagreed with.
While Britain insisted on its own, the Argentine negotiators were quick to put their name on the islands in a joint declaration, which was a great success.
Behind London they fought back, pushing hard to prevent Brussels from including the statement.
“I hope you can protect the Falkland Islands from being included in the Summit – saying that it will be made by Argentina as support for their cause, will require our response, and increase tensions in the region,” read the message sent by the UK. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to EU High Commissioner Josep Borrell.
“I understand CELAC [countries] are forced to include language on the Falkland Islands in the EU-CELAC Communique… As you know, the UK’s position is clear – the Falkland Islands are a self-governing part of the British Overseas Territory,” reads Cleverly’s statement, seen by POLITICO. Both Cleverly and Borrell declined to comment on the leak.
An EU diplomat, who was not named to discuss the matter, said British officials were “calling representatives and agents … but to no avail.”
A third ambassador said that “France alone urged caution on this issue” at a meeting of European diplomats – a rare moment of Anglo-French cooperation.
Amid British outcry after the final publication, the EU rushed to make clear that it was not focused on the islands’ situation.
Peter Stano, spokesman for the European External Action Service, said that the EU member states had not changed their views on the “Falklands/Malvinas Islands,” and that the bloc had not been able to explain any of the suggestions given that there had been no discussion of the issue at the Council of the EU.
“The EU does not take part in such matters without the approval of the Council,” Stano said.
But in Britain, the damage was already done.
The UK Prime Minister’s spokesman Rishi Sunak told reporters on Thursday that the EU-CELAC announcement was a “disappointing decision” and that it was “right for the EU to clarify what is going on.”
Some Tory MPs went further, angry at what they saw as a lack of respect for British interests.
Leader of Rother Valley, Alexander Stafford, member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Falkland Islands, said: “To me this clearly shows the EU’s approach to democracy. As with agreements, they are happy to go above and beyond the will of the people – in this case the people of the Falkland Islands.”
Crawley leader Henry Smith, a member of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, added: “The EU needs to start respecting democratic referendums. The strong and clear views of the Falkland Islands remain British – and that needs to be respected.”
Arch-Brexiteer Mark Francois, speaking to the Mail, said “Argentinians will shout ‘Rejoice! Rejoice!’ on the EU’s biggest diplomatic crisis.”
Buenos Aires was certainly happy, saying that this was the first time that the EU had recognized its position on the islands.
“We are very happy with what has happened,” said Argentina’s deputy secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean, Gustavo Martínez Pandiani, who was part of the talks in Brussels.
“It is the first time in bilateral negotiations that the question of Malvinas is included in the shared document that is CELAC and the EU. It is a very important step.”
This was also welcomed in London, where officials accused the Argentine government of engaging in a war against the people in this year’s general election.
A person familiar with the thinking of UK Foreign Secretary Cleverly said “his warning that the Argentines will change this will be very accurate.” They said “there is” a striking similarity between the timing of the attempt to restart the chapter and the upcoming one. elections in Argentina.”
And he added: “The Argentine government can persuade whoever it wants, but it does not change the fact that the Falkland Islands are British. This is the clear will of the people of the Falkland Islands.”
The line came after weeks of horse-trading over the final wording of the EU-CELAC summit.
Getting the opposition of Russia’s military action in Ukraine to be a priority for the EU – but the Latin American countries came up with their own demands, including mention of the Malvinas issue and requests for its return.
The talks centered on language in Ukraine, where leading CELAC countries are struggling to find an opportunity to challenge Russia. In the end, Argentina and Brazil work their part of the region to convince many members who refused to go up – although Nicaragua continued to oppose the passage by expressing concern about Russian aggression.
The declaration also stated “the importance of dialogue and respect for international law in the peaceful settlement of disputes” regarding the “question of sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands.”
Pandiani, however, denied that Argentina sold the Malvinas question against the need to get other Latin American countries to join them in condemning the war in Ukraine.
“We do not use Malvinas as a product or as a bargaining chip,” he told POLITICO. “As a negotiator, I had the responsibility to negotiate from my country.”
Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.