Two days after final at Maracanã, BRICS leaders will meet in Fortaleza



In the end, Xi Jinping prevailed. A self-declared soccer fan, Xi Jinping had long ago signaled that he'd like to visit Brazil during the upcoming World Cup. Acceding to China's demands, Brazil agreed to not only schedule Xi's highly symbolic state visit in the week after the final (it marks 40 years of the bilateral relationship), but also organize the 6th BRICS Summit on July 15, just two days after the World Cup Final at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

The decision marks the end of months of uncertainty for many NGOs around the world which were desperate to schedule parallel meetings to the summit. After all, the yearly BRICS Leaders' Summit is not only an important moment for senior government officials to meet up - it has also turned into a point of reference for civil society in the Global South to interact and coordinate joint action. In this sense, the BRICS idea has been a success: Although incipient, intra-BRICS ties on civil society level have increased markedly since the government leaders decided to develop a more institutionalized format six years ago.

Summits in Brazil, India and South Africa are particularly important because they allow freer, more spontaneous interaction between academics, policy makers and NGO representatives. Summits in China, on the other hand, tend to be staged in difficult-to-access venues and even the track II events between academics and the banquets in China tend to provide little space for frank debates.

President Rousseff decided to organize the BRICS Summit in Fortaleza as a favor to a political ally, Governor Cid Gomes of the state of Ceará, who will be crucial in undermining the candidacy of Eduardo Campos, one of Rousseff's rivals in her bid for reelection in October 2014. For the BRICS Summit, the decision will have mostly negative consequences. To begin with, the city's hotel infrastructure is precarious. Fortaleza will host a World Cup quarter final on July 4, and prices of hotel rooms and flights even in the week after the tournament are already extremely high. An Indian diplomat privately complained that the city lacked hotel rooms adequate for state leaders and joked that India's new Prime Minister may just as well sleep in a tent, as Libya's Muhammar Gaddafi used to do during state visits abroad. In addition, the South African, Russian, Chinese and Indian embassies in Brasília will have to transport their limousines for the state leaders to Fortaleza, 2000 km away from the capital. Finally, no matter what the outcome of the World Cup, the international media and Brazil's population will certainly still be focused on the tournament's aftermath and eclipse any meaningful decisions taken at the summit - such as the creation of the BRICS Development Bank.

And yet, the decision to postpone the summit (Brazil had initially proposed late March or early April) has one important positive consequence: Rather than outgoing Manmohan Singh, India's new Prime Minister will participate, allowing the meeting's debates to look ahead with greater confidence. It may be one of the newly elected leader's first international trips, and will serve as a litmus test of India's continued commitment to the grouping.

Organizing a large international summit just two days after the greatest sports event on earth involves challenges and risks for President Rousseff. Protests may mar the tournament, as occurred during the 2013 Confederations Cup, possibly denting her approval ratings. The BRICS Summit could be criticized by some who argue that Brazil's claim to a greater role in the world is misguided and that it should focus on internal challenges instead. All that, alas, is unlikely to matter much to the population should Brazil's head coach Felipe Scolari deliver and win, as widely expected, the final on July 13.

Read also:

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The Financial Crisis, Contested Legitimacy, and the Genesis of Intra-BRICS Cooperation

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Brazil’s top 10 foreign policy challenges in 2014

Picture credit: Reuters