President Alberto Fernández landed this afternoon in Rome as his European tour began – a trip in which he plans to meet with Pope Francis and leaders of EU nations in a bid to court support for the government's renegotiation of its heavy debt-load and payment schedule.
After thirteen hours of travel, the AR1140 Aerolineas Argentinas flight carrying the president arrived at Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino International Airport at 3.45pm in Rome (11.45am Argentina time).
The head of state’s official agenda will begin this Friday at 10.30am local time, when he meets Pope Francis, his fellow countryman, at the Vatican Library.
Speaking to reporters before his departure, Fernández made it clear he would not discuss his government’s pre-announced intention to decriminalise abortion during his term in office. However, he said he did hope to discuss the progress of the Argentina's 'Plan against Hunger,' with members of the local Church forming part of his special council on the issue.
Fernández said the duo would discuss "the themes that worry us," highlighting "poverty" and "marginalisation."
"Many Argentines are living in a crisis situation and the Pope is worried by this," he said.
After passing through the Holy See, Fernández plans to meet next Monday with Italian leaders Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and President Sergio Matarella. That same day, he will depart for Berlin to hold his first bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose support he also needs as Argentina tries to court significant members of the IMF voting bloc.
According to the AFP news agency, the country’s debt load currently stands at around US$335 billion, or 93 percent of GDP. Of that, US$44 billion is owed to the IMF, with talks on delaying repayment set to begin soon.
The president's European tour also takes the Peronist leader to Madrid to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, as well with King Felipe VI. Finally, he will head onto Paris for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, whom he was with just days ago at the event for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau that took place in Jerusalem.