Amid growing pressure by Latin American presidents to recognise the self-proclaimed president of Venezuela, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the EU remains reluctant to follow the steps of the US and instead called on Thursday (24 January) for “free and fair elections”.
“We really think that there need to be free and fair elections in Venezuela, internationally supervised, and allow the people of Venezuela to chose their government,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told EURACTIV.com in the corridors of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
He ruled out at this stage recognising Guaidó, as US President Donald Trump did on Wednesday. “It’s something that we need to discuss at EU level,” he said.
Varadkar stressed that he would like to support the winner of free and fair elections “rather than somebody declaring himself president”.
His comments came after Guaidó, South American country’s parliament leader, declared himself interim president.
“I swear to formally assume the national executive powers as acting president of Venezuela to end the usurpation, (install) a transitional government and hold free elections,” he told a crowd on Wednesday.
A European Commission spokesperson also declined on Thursday to explicitly recognise Guaidó and called for a political process leading to new elections.
“We stand behind the democratic forces in the country,” the Commission official told a regular news briefing.
The oil-rich nation is suffering a deep political and economic crisis under the regime of Nicolas Maduro. Basic products are scarce and prices double every three weeks. The EU did not recognise the results of the elections held in May.
On his Twitter account, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote that “after the illegitimate election of Nicolas Maduro in 2018, Europe supports the restoration of democracy. I welcome the courage of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who march for their freedom”.
Other EU leaders were more reluctant to comment. Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė told EURACTIV in Davos she preferred to wait and have more information on the developing crisis, which has already left 16 people dead from clashes between security forces and citizens on the streets.
The army’s position will be crucial in deciding whether Maduro could remain in power. The Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino López said that soldiers remain on Maduro’s side.
Spain in the lead
Varadkar said the EU position will be “very much guided” by the views of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who spoke this morning on the phone with Guaidó.
Sánchez told the opposition candidate that fair and transparent elections are the “appropriate and natural” solution to overcome Venezuela’s crisis, sources from his team told reporters.
Sánchez was reluctant to openly endorse Guaidó in order to maintain European unity. Member states will discuss the issue at the next Foreign Affairs Council, and sources said a meeting could take place on Monday.
However, diplomats said that events could evolve very rapidly in the next hours and did not rule out an endorsement of Guaidó.
Latin American countries are pressing Sánchez and his European colleagues to back Guaidó. The Spanish leader met with the presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica, who were also in Davos.
The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, called on Wednesday for elections, following Guaidó’s address to thousands of Venezuelans who took to the streets.
“The people of Venezuela have massively called for democracy and the possibility to freely determine their own destiny,” Mogherini said.
Varadkar said that “we are very concerned about the events in Venezuela, a country that was very prosperous, and now is facing poverty and a refugee crisis”.
“A country that should be a functioning democracy with civil rights and human rights is now going down a very dangerous path”, he added.
Business leaders in Davos agreed that the solution to the crisis should be free and fair elections. However, a CEO of a large company operating in Venezuela said that the international community should be “firm” in order to seize the opportunity to oust Maduro.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]