Venezuela's Maduro Faces Western Front as EU Toughens Line

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union hardened its stance against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, moving closer to the U.S. position recognizing the National Assembly leader as the country’s ruler.

The EU on Saturday called for a move “over the next days” toward elections in the oil-rich South American nation, where Maduro and National Assembly chief Juan Guaido both claim to be president. The 28-nation bloc also dangled the prospect of recognizing Guaido as Venezuela’s leader in the absence of any announcement on a new ballot.

Venezuela's Maduro Faces Western Front as EU Toughens Line

On Jan. 23, U.S. President Donald Trump backed Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader while the EU went no further than saying it “fully supports” the Assembly and urging steps toward elections.

“The EU strongly calls for the urgent holding of free, transparent and credible presidential elections in accordance with internationally democratic standards and the Venezuelan constitutional order,” European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in an emailed statement sent on Saturday in Brussels as the United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on Venezuela.

“In the absence of an announcement on the organization of fresh elections with the necessary guarantees over the next days, the EU will take further actions, including on the issue of recognition of the country’s leadership,” Mogherini said in the statement, which was released on behalf of all EU governments. The U.K., Spain, Germany and France on Saturday pledged to recognize Guaido if elections aren’t called within eight days.

Venezuela’s foreign minister rejected the EU ultimatum, insisting Maduro remained the legitimate president despite U.S.-led pressure. "Nobody is going to give us deadlines or tell us if there are elections or not," Jorge Arreaza said at the UN meeting.

The shift in the European position more clearly delineates the international battle lines over the political standoff in Venezuela, with the EU edging toward a group of countries including the U.S., Canada and Brazil pitted against nations such as Russia and China that support Maduro.

Venezuela's Maduro Faces Western Front as EU Toughens Line

A protege of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Maduro won re-election in a May 2018 ballot widely seen as a charade. A Supreme Court largely loyal to Maduro stripped the Assembly of its power the year before.

Guaido announced on Jan. 23 that he would assume Maduro’s authority temporarily, invoking a constitutional amendment that allows for the head of the legislature to lead a caretaker government until new elections can be held. The Assembly had already declared Maduro’s rule illegitimate.

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