Lula-Macron: A diplomatic rapprochement in the Amazon

France and Brazil unveil sweeping accords as rainforest collaboration enters new era

Lula da Silva and macron - afp Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) and France's President Emmanuel Macron (L) during a bilateral agreement signing ceremony | AFP

In an audacious bid to resuscitate global efforts to save the Amazon rainforest, the presidents of Brazil and France unveiled a sweeping new pact that could reshape the region's destiny and reverberate across the climate crisis. 

After years of hostility and neglect under Jair Bolsonaro's administration, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Emmanuel Macron moved to hit the reset button on rainforest diplomacy through a flurry of environmental accords capping the French leader's symbolically charged visit to Brazil.

The dramatic diplomatic rapprochement marked an about-face from the antagonistic era of insults and boycotts that derailed conservation campaigns during the Bolsonaro presidency. With soaring ambitions matched only by the scale of the Amazon's ecological importance, Lula and Macron cast their partnership as a frontline stand to protect the ecologically sensitive Amazon Forest from further pillaging in the escalating climate emergency.

As clouds spread thin to reveal patches of a blue sky over Brasília's modernist architecture Thursday, Presidents Lula and Macron strolled side-by-side, bonhomie emanating from their relaxed body language, one man near the other in a noticeable closeness. The images underscored the unifying spirit of a diplomatic reunion steeped in rich cultural ties dating back two centuries. Yet their daring environmental agenda faces formidable political and economic headwinds that could imperil its aspirations.

Macron's three-day visit to Brazil carried historic symbolism as the two nations commemorated 200 years of diplomatic ties. But it also clearly marked a new era of renewed cooperation between Brazil and France on shared priorities beyond environmental protection to areas like human rights, and democratic resilience.

The French president landed in the Brazilian capital keen to make a fresh restart after years of tensions with Bolsonaro over the Amazon rainforest. In subtle comments, Macron commended Lula's "spirit of resistance" against anti-democratic forces, alluding to the January 8th riots that vandalized public buildings in Brasília. 

"Brazil resisted this. We discussed this at length, and I want to move forward on this at an international level," Macron said, thanking Lula for helping "restore democracy." The words underscored their united front in defending democratic institutions from extremist threats.

Macron made the pointed remarks after passing through the Praça dos Três Poderes —that gathers Brazil’s executive, legislative, and judicial powers— where Bolsonaro rioters shattered windows and defaced the Congress, Supreme Court and presidential buildings some 14+ months earlier. The powerful symbolism highlighted how Brazil's democratic revival resonates globally amid the backsliding of freedoms worldwide.

Beyond the pomp and grandeur of presidential meetings, however, the visit culminated in some 21 substantive bilateral agreements spanning the Amazon, energy transition, illegal mining, public integrity and more. The sheer breadth highlighted the global stakes of the Brazil-France collaboration.

At the top of the agenda was shoring up environmental governance in the Amazon– a global priority ever since the rainforest's damaging wildfires made headlines worldwide in 2019. An innovative pact will link Brazil's Tumucumaque Mountains National Park with the Amazon Park in French Guiana, creating a protected 7-million-hectare forest corridor.

The leaders also revived the Franco-Brazilian Amazonian Biodiversity Center to facilitate research into the region's unparalleled bounty of flora and fauna. The initiative, first proposed in 2008 under Lula's second term, aims to unlock sustainable economic opportunities from its biological assets while safeguarding indigenous rights.

"A vision based on the priority of production over unproductive finance, solidarity over selfishness, democracy over totalitarianism, sustainability over predatory exploitation," Lula proclaimed, framing their partnership as an ethical model for global affairs.

More than just green policies, their agenda spanned a new era of scientific and security ties. France will share classified intelligence to bolster Brazil's cybersecurity capabilities — a milestone in an age of persistent disinformation threats. The nations will also deepen academic exchanges and police cooperation against illicit mining that plagues the Amazon.  

For Macron, the trip comprised the latest salvo in his quest for European "sovereignty" by currying influence among strategic global partners. Solidifying ties with Lula's Brazil, a resurgent player in climate diplomacy and multicultural democracy, offered geopolitical heft as Western countries vie for sway among developing nations.

"France loves Brazil and believes in Brazil," Macron remarked warmly, conscious of his host's regional diplomatic clout after decades on the world stage. Lula, for his part, played up ideological affinities as progressive leaders charting a "third way" between capitalism and communism.

While their bromance captured headlines, their closeness belied lingering fissures beneath the surface. Lula reiterated calls to reform global governance by expanding the UN Security Council's permanent membership — a proposal France has long resisted for fear of diluting its power.

More turbulence looms over the long-stalled EU-Mercosur trade deal, which Lula conditionally endorsed after Macron signalled openness to reviewing environmental safeguards despite heavy opposition at home. Brazil's muscular agricultural lobby will fiercely resist any clauses curtailing Amazon deforestation, setting up a flashpoint with Macron's core green constituency.

An economic powerhouse and cultural titan straddling the Atlantic, Brazil’s immensity commanded respect even as Macron aimed to project France's global stance.

The visit kicked off in the Amazonian city of Belém where Lula and Macron toured a sprawling naval shipyard building France's first-ever foreign attack submarine. In Rio de Janeiro, they unveiled the near-completed submarine, the third in a $8.6 billion technology transfer deal that allows Brazil to deploy nuclear-powered ships.

The submarine diplomacy formed part of Macron's strategy to project French influence abroad through strategic partnerships. But the $195 million biodiversity research centre and rainforest protection pacts arguably comprised bigger geopolitical plays to curb deforestation in Brazil's backyard.

The symbolic highlights played well for the cameras. At Brazil’s Planalto Presidential Palace, Lula awarded Macron Brazil's highest honor for foreigners - the National Order of the Southern Cross. Macron reciprocated by making First Lady Rosângela "Janja" da Silva an officer of France's Legion of Honor. 

Over a working lunch of Brazilian delicacies like tapioca ravioli and cocoa fruit mousse, the leaders dined with French celebrity guests like PSG footballer Dimitri Payet and comedian Paul Cabannes. The cross-cultural guest list exemplified the visit's goals of deepening cultural ties.


In Brazil, Macron encountered a dichotomy of modern policymaking and freewheeling cultural exuberance. From Amazon's defense to nuclear submarine deals, high-stakes diplomacy unfolded against the soundtrack of bossa nova rhythms and cheers for soccer icons.

As Macron’s visit came to a close, Brazil's vibrant diversity and complexities loomed large. The geopolitical courtship had breathed new life into lapsed cooperation. But transcending reverent words to forge lasting change in the Amazon would prove an epic task requiring sustained commitment on both sides.

Lula faces the challenge of mediating Brazil's powerful agribusiness sector, indigenous groups, and environmental allies — a delicate three-way balance. For Macron, there would be fraught politics at home to implement any EU-Mercosur concessions. The hard work of preserving democracy and biodiversity was only just beginning.

Join our WhatsApp Channel to get the latest news, exclusives and videos on WhatsApp