The European Union’s exploratory mission arrives in Venezuela: what are the key issues on the agenda?

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A technical commission of the European Union arrived this Thursday in Caracas with the mission of evaluate their eventual observation and participation in the so-called “mega-elections” to be held in Venezuela on November 21.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry announced that the members of the exploratory mission will hold meetings with the holders of the Public Powers and also with the political actors who will compete in the next electoral event for more than 3,000 positions of popular election.

The arrival of this technical team had been informed at the end of June by the EU charge d’affaires in Venezuela, Duccio Bandini, after meeting with the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Pedro Calzadilla.

A decisive visit

On the eve of the commission’s arrival, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, Josep Borrell, announced at a press conference that the exploratory group should verify, “no restrictions, no limitations”, whether it is possible to execute the dispatch of the electoral observation mission, which will depend on a variety of “political” and “security” conditions.

The European diplomat stressed that the evaluations made by this team will be taken into account to decide whether or not the EU will be present in the elections that will elect governors, mayors, regional and municipal legislators.

Borrell’s announcement was made after the meeting he held with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in Antalya, Turkey, in mid-June, where both authorities spoke about bilateral relations, the political situation, the dialogue process and access to vaccines against covid-19.

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The frictions of the relationship

The friction between Venezuela and the EU began in 2017, when the 27 imposed sanctions – still in force – against the country, amid protests carried out by the opposition that year. Furthermore, after the 2018 presidential elections, the European bloc questioned the legitimacy of the institutions in Venezuela, among them, the Executive and Electoral Power.

Then, in 2019, after the self-proclamation of former deputy Juan Guaidó as “president in charge”, the bloc decided to recognize him, an action that Caracas described as “interference” and “insolent”.

However, earlier this year, the EU stopped calling Guaidó “interim president” and demoted him to the role of “important actor” and “privileged interlocutor” of the “dialogue and transition” for Venezuela.

The change in tone came after the parliamentary elections held in December 2020, elections that the EU decided not to observe despite constant invitations from the Electoral Power and the Venezuelan Executive. That election event allowed renew the Legislative Branch, an instance that has been in contempt of constitutional order in Venezuela since 2016, while it was in the hands of an opposition majority.

Upon taking office in January 2021, the new Parliament undertook a broad process of dialogue and debate between the different political sectors of the country, which opted for the renewal of the authorities of the Electoral Power. Under this scenario, the EU decided to soften its position with respect to Caracas and has opted for having “eyes on the ground”, as Borrell has said.

On this occasion, the exploratory mission also has in its hands the future of bilateral relations and the bloc’s trust in Venezuela. His decision will be decisive to reduce or increase the tensions between Caracas and Brussels, after a period of friction marked by sanctions.

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Only last February, relations experienced a new setback, after the European bloc sanctioned Venezuelan officials for considering that they had participated in “acts and decisions” that undermined democracy, in reference to the celebration of the 2020 parliamentarians.

At that time, Venezuela expelled the then EU representative in Caracas, Isabel Brilhante, and declared her persona ‘non grata’. The Europeans did the same with the Venezuelan diplomat, Claudia Salerno.

The arrival of the commission this Thursday has coincided with a strong police operation against criminal gangs that operate in the southwest of the Venezuelan capital and that, repeatedly, carry out attacks that have put citizens on edge. The most recent shooting began two days ago and its development could influence the conclusion of a political agreement.

Orlando Rangel Y.

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