‘Islas Malvinas’ and the new battle over the Falklands

Argentina scores ‘major diplomatic win’ as EU refers to British territory by its disputed name

Stanley, the Falkland Islands capital
Falkland islanders voted almost unanimously in 2013 to remain British
(Image credit: Sergio Pitamitz/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak has criticised the European Union for a “regrettable choice of words” after it appeared to endorse the Argentine name for the Falkland Islands, “Islas Malvinas”.

A diplomatic row broke out after the EU referred to the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory, as Islas Malvinas in a communiqué signed in Brussels this week by 60 EU and Latin American nations.

The incident occurred at the EU’s first summit with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) since Britain left the EU in 2020. The declaration read: “Regarding the question of sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands, the European Union took note of Celac’s historical position based on the importance of dialogue and respect for international law in the peaceful solution of disputes.”

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While a member of the EU, the UK would once have been able to “veto language it did not agree with”, noted Politico. But thanks to Britain’s “self-enforced absence”, Argentine negotiators “moved swiftly to insert their own name for the islands into the joint declaration”, scoring what it saw as a “major diplomatic win”, said the news site.

The Argentine government hailed the text as “evidence of European support for their disputed claim” to the islands over which Britain and Argentina went to war in 1982, said The Times. But the “posturing” of the Argentine government “irritated both London and Brussels”, forcing the European Commission to issue a statement denying that the bloc’s official position on the sovereignty of the islands had changed.

“There is not any council discussion on this matter,” said the statement. “The EU does not take any position on such issues without a council mandate.”

This “one-sided dispute” is likely to continue “for as long as Argentinian governments want to distract their people from their own incompetence”, said Ben Sixsmith in The Critic. That was the case when dictator Leopoldo Galtieri ordered the invasion of the Falklands in 1982, “hoping people would forget inflation and the Dirty War”, and it is still the case “when modern leaders look for something other than sky-high prices for their voters to talk about”.

With the world’s third highest inflation rate, it is no wonder the Argentine government wants to “distract” its electorate. But that “doesn’t make it right”. Of course, “pointless aggression” between the UK and Argentina is the last thing anyone wants, continued Sixsmith. There is “one way to avoid diplomatic disagreement and it is the Argentinian government finding a new topic of conversation”.

The people of the Falklands have overwhelmingly expressed their desire to remain British. The “thumping” outcome of the 2013 referendum was that 99.8% of the island’s population wished to remain British, said A.S.H. Smyth in The Spectator. It is a dispute which has been “definitively settled”, said Smyth.

In any case, islanders in the Falklands have been largely unconcerned by the communiqué and the ensuing row: its community board could “almost not even bestir itself to react”, said Smyth. Instead, it busied itself with “complaints over a dysfunctional car wash, the major hotel restaurant being closed this Saturday, a lecture on peat” and “the availability of pizza at curry night” among other posts. As Teslyn Barkman, the deputy chairman of the Legislative Assembly, put it: “This news from Brussels changes nothing.”

Such a communiqué would have been “inconceivable” if Britain remained a member of the EU, said The Times’ policy editor, Oliver Wright. “And that is sort of the point,” he said. By agreeing to the declaration – the document was signed by the presidents of both the European Council and European Commission – despite protestations from British officials, the EU demonstrated “that the UK cannot expect to have the influence in Europe that it once did”.

This has ramifications for both this government and a potential Labour administration. Labour has made it clear that it will not reverse Brexit, but EU officials say Labour cannot expect special treatment “simply because they are not the Tories”, said Wright. Ultimately, Keir Starmer will have to follow more European rules if he wants increased access to European markets and influence.

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.