Olaf Scholz welcomes Argentina’s president Javier Milei to Germany

<span>German chancellor Scholz greets Javier Milei in Berlin.</span><span>Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/EPA</span>
German chancellor Scholz greets Javier Milei in Berlin.Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/EPA

The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has welcomed Argentina’s populist president, Javier Milei, for a controversial and unusually short meeting in Berlin after the divisive leader accepted an award from a German foundation with links to the far right.

Protesters, some holding placards reading “No trade with despots”, jeered from beyond the gates of Scholz’s chancellery as the self-described anarcho-capitalist emerged from his limousine on his first visit to Germany as president.

A planned news conference was cancelled earlier in the week at the request of Milei’s team, Scholz’s office said, as were the military honours that are customary for an inaugural visit.

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German media gave blanket coverage to the man they dubbed the Kettensägenmann (chainsaw man) for his penchant for brandishing the power tool at rallies ahead of his 2023 election to signal his intention to radically overhaul Argentina’s government, economy and society.

Observers commented on the odd-couple nature of the encounter between the reserved, technocratic Scholz and the hot-tempered libertarian Milei.

Scholz faced criticism from within his own centre-left-led coalition for inviting Milei. MP Deborah Düring of the Greens said the president was “diametrically opposed to our policies and our values”.

She told public broadcaster ARD that Argentina’s importance as a trade partner and Germany’s interest in its raw materials should not supersede issues including “human rights and environmental standards”.

Argentina has the world’s second largest reserves of lithium, which is essential to Germany’s goal of stepping up electric vehicle production, but has been linked to human rights abuses and land protection violations.

Scholz’s spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit acknowledged ahead of the talks, which at one hour were more brief than most with a foreign leader, that “you can’t choose whom you interact with in world politics”, while stressing the strong ties between Berlin and Buenos Aires.

In a terse statement after the meeting, Hebestreit said the leaders called for a rapid conclusion of a sweeping trade deal between the EU and four South American economies known as Mercosur which has been opposed by France.

Scholz singled out Milei’s support for Ukraine as it seeks to repel Russia’s full-scale invasion, noting that they had both attended a peace summit in Switzerland this month. “Both agreed again in their talks today that Russia has the power to end the war of aggression against Ukraine,” Hebestreit said.

On Saturday, Milei collected a prize in Hamburg as an “ambitious reformer” from the neoliberal Friedrich August von Hayek Society, which has ties to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

More than 300 anti-Milei demonstrators rallied outside the venue, while inside AfD lawmaker Beatrix von Storch reportedly cheered for Milei, chanting “Freedom”.

“We said that there is no money, that it will be hard, that the beginning will be difficult, but that we will achieve good results in the end,” Milei said of his plans for Argentina’s economy.

The president arrived in Germany from Spain, where he met only rightwing opponents of the socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez. On a previous stay in May, Milei reopened a festering diplomatic row by suggesting that Sánchez’s wife was “corrupt”. Madrid demanded an apology and withdrew its ambassador in Buenos Aires.

Milei is due to wrap up his European tour in the Czech Republic on Monday.

The far-right libertarian rose to power on the back of promises that he would resolve Argentina’s worst crisis in two decades, which has seen annual inflation climbing toward 300% and a deepening recession.

Its Senate narrowly voted this month to approve the first set of Milei’s harsh austerity measures, a move that triggered violent protests followed by a police crackdown.

Only a few global leaders have received Milei since he took office, including the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, and Pope Francis.

He has visited the US repeatedly without receiving an invitation to the White House, instead meeting Tesla CEO Elon Musk and former president Donald Trump.