The EU has criticized Venezuela's election as nontransparent and undemocratic, and said it's discussing "appropriate measures." Without a precise plan of action, could a hard-line approach risk inflaming the crisis?
Spain was the first European Union country to express criticism of the recent Venezuelan presidential election, followed shortly afterwards by Germany. The tenor of both statements was the same: Democratic minimum standards were not maintained and the election was neither free nor fair, so the result could not be recognized.
Days after the May 20 vote there has still been no joint declaration by the EU's 28 member countries, and as any such action must be unanimous — we might be waiting some time. Meanwhile, the European Commission is echoing the EU's attitude to date, keeping a close eye on developments and considering the possibility of imposing sanctions.
The political framework must be defined
"The EU is still working in accordance with its delegation in Venezuela," said Ramon Jauregui, president of the Euro-Latin Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat). "Until now, the 28 EU countries have still not taken any decision about their political relations with Venezuela, and our political and diplomatic delegation will continue its work until further notice. It represents the EU in political matters and looks after EU citizens in Venezuela."
"At the same time, we call on the opposition and the government to come to an agreement on the conditions and time for properly held elections," he added.
Not everyone in the EU is satisfied with this compromise approach. For some time now, Czech liberal MEP Dita Charanzova has been calling Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a dictator and urging tighter sanctions than the ones imposed in January. That kind of hard-line response is echoed by Tamara Suju, the director of the Casla Institute in Prague, a nongovernmental organization promoting democracy in Latin America.
"If people don't recognize this pseudo-election, the EU should be consistent and not recognize the government of Nicolas Maduro either," she said. "The EU could follow the example of the Lima Group of Latin American countries that have recalled their ambassadors and imposed sanctions on leading politicians and their families in the country, starting with Nicolas Maduro."
Is dialogue still possible?
EU humanitarian aid is currently reaching people beyond Venezuela's borders — in Boa Vista, Brazil and in Cucuta, Colombia. Many Venezuelan migrants are leaving the country and heading for Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Peru and Argentina.
"People in Venezuela are starving, and the hour of diplomacy has passed," said Suju, adding she sees no chance of dialogue with a "criminal government."
EuroLat's Jauregui, however, is no fan of this kind of thinking: "What's the alternative? What suggestion is being put forward by those who are opposed to dialogue? That the government should be toppled? How? Should it be brought about by a violent conflict in the country that would be disastrous for everyone?"
He also expressed understanding for the heavily criticized observer mission under former Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which designated the elections transparent and open.
"Perhaps the counting of the 8 million votes really was correct," Jauregui said. "No one can prove that 46 percent of the Venezuelan people did not vote freely. Zapatero probably based his evaluation on that. But it's the international community's view that the basic prerequisites for these elections were not democratic."
In his opinion ,there is no way out of the crisis other than through diplomacy. The path taken has to be democratic and peaceful, said Jauregui, and the use of any form of violence absolutely must be prevented. As the head of the EuroLat parliamentary group, he presides over 75 EU delegates from 28 countries. For him, the laborious path is the only viable one: "We are arguing for an agreement, a timetable and binding pledges to resolve this country's political crisis by democratic means."