Europe’s window of opportunity on Venezuela is closing

Photo: Carolina Cabral – Getty Images


If they act quickly, the EU and the US can achieve a greater alignment of diplomatic and economic pressure.

By Americas Quaterly – Ryan Berg and Jorge González-Gallarza

Apr 14, 2021

This year keeps thrusting the European Union (EU) into ever-greater foreign policy challenges. To make matters worse, the highly anticipated realignment with the new Biden administration is proving more difficult on both sides of the Atlantic than initially envisioned.

If the EU is sincere about taking up Joe Biden’s offer of renewed multilateral engagement, it should look for places to ease into it. Venezuela represents an immediate opportunity for policy realignment. The EU needs to urgently revamp its negotiating posture and sanctions arsenal on Venezuela. Such a move would not only bring the EU in line with the US, but also with leading figures in the region, such as Colombia’s President Iván Duque, who has called for a more vigorous European role in resolving Venezuela’s crisis.

According to a report recently co-authored by the American Enterprise Institute and Spain’s Fundación Civismo, an EU-US policy realignment on Venezuela is still feasible, but the window of opportunity is closing quickly. Thus far, the EU’s diplomatic and pressure campaigns haven’t contributed meaningfully to protecting human rights and restoring democracy in the oil-rich country. Many of the Maduro regime’s complex work-arounds to US sanctions involve continued access to the European economy and the euro currency. Yet EU diplomacy, headed by former Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell, seems unaware of this pressure point.

None of the EU’s member states want to see another Cuba in the Western Hemisphere, especially since Venezuela would present a broader set of more concerning security threats. Like the US, the EU also has a strong interest in a political transition in Venezuela and a return to free, fair, and internationally-observed elections.

Yet, Europe’s diplomatic corps and the EU bloc’s strategy keep falling short in a number of critical ways. Most importantly, the EU’s sanctions architecture remains skeletal. For instance, the EU has merely 55 individuals designated for sanctions, while Canada has 113 and the US has 160. The EU came perilously close to furnishing election observers for Venezuela’s recent parliamentary race, held in December 2020. What halted the process was the September 2020 release of a scathing United Nations report detailing unfathomable human rights abuses under the Maduro regime. That the EU came so close to legitimizing those elections exposes its misdiagnosis of Venezuela’s crisis and the fecklessness of the EU response.

After elections rife with fraud, the EU added a meager 19 people involved in election machinations to its list of sanctioned individuals. Nevertheless, recognizing this fraud failed to prevent a fall from grace for Interim President Juan Guaidó. In early January 2021, the EU downgraded his status to that of “privileged interlocutor.” Pressure from the US – including laying the foundations for a transition roadmap in the “day-after scenario” – has not been replicated enough east of the Atlantic.

Read More:  Americas Quaterly – Europe’s window of opportunity on Venezuela is closing

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