Macri's Presidency: UK Relations: A New Approach?

Argentine President Macri has promised a new relationship with the UK, raising hopes of a change in Argentina’s approach on the Falkland Islands. But, after some ritual exchanges in the New Year, there are few signs of this yet.

The Falklands were not an issue during the Argentine Presidential elections but Macri let it be known that he would seek a wider relationship with the UK and reduce the aggressive stance that had characterised the policies of the Kirchner regime towards the UK (and the Islands). He promised to "tone down the rhetoric” and abolish the post of ‘Malvinas Secretary’ created by his predecessor in 2013 (and held by Daniel Filmus).

Consequently, David Cameron, when ‘phoning to congratulate Macri on his election, was reported to have commented that this was an opportunity to strengthen relations between the UK and Argentina by developing closer trade and investment links. He offered UK support for Macri’s economic reform programme and, whilst acknowledging past differences over the Falklands, hoped for a stronger partnership and more open dialogue between the two governments. Hugo Swire, the FCO Minister covering UK relations with Argentina, looked forward to working with the new Argentine Government, commenting that "hopefully, we will no longer suffer the bullying and bellicosity shown by the former government of Argentina towards the people of the Falkland Islands”.

Macri’s appointment of Susana Malcorra as his Foreign Minister inspires confidence. An experienced UN diplomat, who was the UN Secretary General’s chef du cabinet, with early experience in the telecommunications business and later in administering the UN’s world food aid programme, she has considerable knowledge of international politics and of working with the UK on international humanitarian issues. Similarly, Macri has nominated an experienced diplomat, Carlos Sersale di Cerisano, previously Ambassador to South Africa, for appointment as Argentine Ambassador to the UK. His earlier background in economics should prove useful in developing closer economic ties with Britain – and, if confirmed, will prove a welcome antidote to the previous antics of his predecessor, Alicia Castro.

The new Foreign Minister was careful, however, to explain that Argentina could not give up its sovereignty claim to the Falkland Islands. It was set in the nation’s Constitution and was "not optional”. But the Kirchners’ approach "was not the best way to defend Argentina’s interests”. Argentina wanted to restore closer relations with the UK in the wider context and would not allow differences over the Falklands to affect good relations or undermine a stable relationship. Her Deputy Foreign Minister, Carlos Foradori, stressed that Argentine sovereignty over the Falkland Islands was a "state objective”.

The Prime Minister’s Christmas message to the Falkland Islanders hoped for a "more mature relationship” with the Argentine Government on "many areas on which co-operation could be of mutual benefit”. He commented that "while I am eager to improve Argentine relations for the benefit of all, I am clear that this does not and will not change my Government’s position on your right to self-determination. On this we are immovable.” For the full text of the Prime Minister's message please visit: www.gov.uk/government/news/pms-2015-christmas-message-to-the-falkland-islands

The Argentine MFA then reverted to type by issuing a statement on 3 January which it regards as the 183rd anniversary of ‘British occupation’ of the Falkland Islands in 1833, peddling the usual historical untruth that the civilian population were forced to leave [see note below]. The statement went on: "Argentina renews its commitment to the peaceful solution of controversies...[and]...invites the UK to resume negotiations with the purpose of resolving, in the shortest time possible and in a fair and definitive way, the sovereignty dispute over the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and surrounding maritime spaces.”

The FCO issued a low-key response, saying that "the UK has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. We would like a more productive bilateral relationship with Argentina but not at the expense of the Islanders’ right to choose their own future.”

It is too early to see how the new Argentine Government will develop its policy on the Falklands but calling for the early resumption of negotiations over sovereignty is unrealistic, naive and hardly designed to inspire the confidence of the Islanders.

Note

The much peddled Argentine claim that the civilian population was expelled by force in 1833 is untrue. Certainly, the Argentine garrison of 26 military personnel plus their 11 wives and 8 children were invited to leave but the British actually encouraged the remaining 25 or so civilians, mainly gauchos, to remain: only two men with their respective wives left.