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EU and Latin America: The Venezuela issue

Joel Diaz-Rodriguez , 8 février 2019

On February 4th, 19 EU Member States recognized the self-proclaimed new Venezuela’s president, Juan Guaidó. The recognition was a result of the expiration of the deadline, given by the Spanish government on Saturday January 26th, urging the current President Maduro to call for elections. His unwillingness to do so produced the declaration of recognition by Spain with the aim that he call for free and fair elections. This act was followed by the announcements by 18 other Member States. However, this fact also showed two important issues for the EU: the disagreement between the Member States in reaching a common position regarding the recognition (only 19 out of 28 did so) and, on the other hand, an even deeper phenomena; the lack of a defined policy towards Latin America. Thus, we can ask, what are the implications for the EU of the recognition of 19 of its Member States? Is the establishment of the International Contact Group on Venezuela by the Council the plan to tackle the Venezuela crisis?

Thus, the notable divergence between Member States regarding this issue impeded the EU and its High Representative, Federica Mogherini, from issuing a formal Declaration on behalf of the EU taking a common position. This shows the difficulties EU has to face when a controversial point pushes it to take a political position. This means that no consensus was reached at the Council for an EU common position under the CFSP provisions of Article 31 TEU, which requires unanimity. The High Representative Federica Mogherini responded that this is a national competence to recognize governments.

President Maduro’s second term inauguration on January 10th marked the moment when its presidency lost its formal legitimacy. The election he won in May 2018 was not recognized by almost all members of the Lima Group (13 Latin American countries and Canada that look for a solution for the Venezuela crisis) neither by European Union. On January 5th, a young and unknown politician, Juan Guaido, was sworn in as President of the National Assembly. On January 23rd, Mr. Guaido proclaimed himself the acting president. In what looked like a coordinated move, President Trump immediately recognized Mr. Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader, and most countries of the Lima Group followed. The result has been a unique scenario; one president recognized by the main countries of the international community and another that holds the power de facto.

The EU’s response to the crisis has been little ambiguous, supporting the new president and questioning the legitimacy of the incumbent government presided by Mr. Maduro. At the same time, the EU has tried to keep a distance from Trump’s administration that gave full support to the self-proclaimed new government considering all options ─including military─ to resolve the crisis. Believing that there is still space for political dialogue, on January 30th, the Council gave its approval for the establishment of the International Contact Group on Venezuela, an initiative that came from the Spanish government, that seeks to liaise with other Latin American countries in order to mediate the crisis. The objectives of this Contact Group are to ensure regular, discreet and structured contacts between its members on the situation. In second place, the aim is to liaise with other international and regional stakeholders in this regard, and finally, once enabling conditions are in place, to assist to give political backing to a credible political transition process. This measure ─whose result of its first conference was a timid call for a political, pacific and democratic solution to the crisis in words of the High Representative─, sticks to the principles of the EU external action such as to appeal to multilateralism and peaceful means of conflict resolution. But it shows also the difficulties to set a concrete policy and position not only towards Venezuela but also towards the region as a whole. EU has crashed in all its attempts to develop a bi-regional relation based on common values, democracy and multilateralism. However, Latin America is a diverse region, and that approach has failed and pushed the EU to reassess its policy towards it before the failure of the bi-regional EU-CELAC summit in 2017 and to turn to a more selective bilateral approach. The difficulties in arriving to a common position regarding Venezuela is just one example of the challenges the EU has to face in define its foreign policy.


Joel Diaz Rodriguez. EU and Latin America: the Venezuela issue. Actualité du 08 Février, 2019. www.ceje.ch

EU Foreign policy