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16th Dec 2017

EU snubs Venezuela vote, but holds off sanctions

  • Venezuelan leader Maduro. The EU's priority is "the urgent relief of the Venezuelan people and de-escalation of the tension." (Photo: ANDES/Micaela Ayala V.)

[Updated at 18.50 on Thursday, to take into account the EU statement] The EU said on Wednesday (2 August) that it does not recognise last Sunday's election in Venezuela but refrained to impose sanctions to put pressure on president Nicolas Maduro to end violence and free his opponents.

"The European Union and its member states cannot recognise the constituent assembly as they have concerns over its effective representativeness and legitimacy," EU high representative Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

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"The effective installation of the Constituent Assembly should be suspended," she said.

She noted that the vote, during which at least 10 people were killed, "has durably worsened" the crisis.

She said that the vote "risks undermining other legitimate institutions foreseen by the Constitution such as the National Assembly," and that it raises "further doubts about the ability of the Constituent Assembly to effectively represent all components of the Venezuelan population."

She said that the EU called on Maduro "to take urgent measures to rectify the course of events," and "on all parties to refrain from violence."

"The European Union and its member states are ready to gradually step up their response in case democratic principles are further undermined and the Venezuelan Constitution is not respected," Mogherini said.

The statement was published after diplomats from member states met in Brussels to agree on a common position and course of action.

European Commission spokeswoman Catherine Ray told journalists during the meeting that "the whole range of actions" were discussed, but EU states decided not to follow the US in imposing sanctions on president Nicolas Maduro.

On Monday, US president Donald Trump's administration froze Maduro's assets in the US and banned US companies from doing business with him.

"There are different sensitivities" between member states, an EU source noted, insisting on the need to keep diplomatic channels open with Maduro's government.

The source also pointed out that sanctions would be "a tool, not an objective", and that EU states still needed to agree on whether they wanted to engage in diplomatic efforts, while no obvious regional mediating country had emerged.

"We promote a political solution to the crisis and we are ready to support ongoing regional mediation efforts," said the Commission’s Ray.

She said that the EU's priority was "the urgent relief of the Venezuelan people and deescalation of the tension."

Among EU member states, Spain has been the most vocal to act against Maduro and his government, but Madrid opposes sanctions that would hurt the population, and is pushing for sanctions on individuals, such as travel restrictions.

Other states, mainly Greece, are said to oppose sanctions, with the question of whether to recognise Sunday's vote also still on the table.

Greece considers the election of a constituent assembly not to be against the Venezuelan constitution, even if the timing was bad, a Greek source told EUobserver.

The country also considers the problem of sanctions having a counter-effect for the opposition, if they made the government less willing to talk.

In Mogherini's statement, the EU also called for the release of "all jailed political opponents" and asked Maduro's government to clarify the whereabouts of two opponents, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, who were taken away from house arrest on Monday.

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