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Bucharest, 31 January 2019
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Thank you for your availability: I thought it was good to give you a sense of the discussion that the Ministers had on the point on Venezuela this afternoon. We have decided to postpone our discussions on Syria to our next Foreign Affairs Council that is going to be held in a few weeks from now in Brussels.
On Venezuela: First of all, I have seen a very united position among Member States on a position we have already expressed several times, but it was reiterated strongly today - that is that the Presidential elections that were held in last May in Venezuela were lacking democratic legitimacy. This is why the European Union and its Member States decided not to attend the inauguration of [Nicolás] Maduro on 10 January and this is why we underline strongly and all united today our full support to the National Assembly as the democratic, legitimate body of Venezuela and the strongest possible support to its President in its institutional role.
We have decided the establishment of an international contact group that has been agreed among our Member States and with some Latin American countries that will participate in it. I believe the terms of reference of this international contact group can be made public, as an act of transparency.
The objective of this international contact group that will be coordinated by the European Union will be, first of all, to have a limited time framework – 90 days – to promote a common understanding and a concerted approach among key international actors on the situation in Venezuela, aiming at a peaceful and democratic outcome for the crisis. The group will help to build trust and create the conditions that are necessary for a credible process to emerge in line with the relevant provisions of the Constitution of Venezuela, enabling Venezuelans to determine their own future through the holding of new elections, with all guarantees for a free and fair electoral process that can be supervised by international, independent observers.
The objective – and I want to underline it very clearly – is not to open a formal mediation process and not to open a formal dialogue, but to support a political dynamic that the group can then further accompany and consolidate.
The group has a clear mandate with different phases and a clear time framework, because the work and the results possibly achieved by the contact group will be reviewed after 90 days of its creation, and it will be terminated in the absence of sufficient progress.
The first meeting of the group shall take place at ministerial level in Latin America – hopefully we will be able to convene it already next week. We will have meetings both at ministerial and at technical level and, as I said, it will have a permanent secretariat for these initial 90 days in the EU. Part of the group will be on the European Union side - obviously, the European Union, but also some of our Member States: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the UK – and on the Latin American side we already have confirmation from Ecuador, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Bolivia. And we are waiting for confirmation from another few countries of which I would not mention the name today. But hopefully in the coming one or two days I will be able communicate them to you.
As you see, it is countries that have different positions and that will help the contact group to have contacts to accompany the process, in particular of new presidential elections.
Apart from the creation of the international contact group, let me mention two other elements that the Ministers discussed. One is the sanctions. The European Union, as you know, has targeted sanctions in place that have been renewed a few weeks ago for another year. The Ministers have discussed their readiness to consider further sanctions on the basis of a solid legal basis. Again, I want to stress this very clearly, not sanctions in general terms against the country – we definitely do not want to affect the population – but targeted towards persons that have a special responsibility, either in the obstruction of the democratic processes or for the use of violence against demonstrations. As I said, we have targeted sanctions in place already that were recently unanimously renewed. And further elements of sanctions might be considered by the Ministers in the coming days if we would not see positive developments.
Last, but definitely not least, the humanitarian help: the European Union is ready to increase its humanitarian aid to Venezuela and for the countries that are neighbouring Venezuela. We are already delivering more than €50 million of humanitarian aid related to the current crisis. We are ready to increase that sum.
Obviously, we are also ready to be present with our offices in Caracas to organise and coordinate humanitarian help to the citizens of the country, if the situation would allow for us to do so. Because for the time being, we have had problems of access to deliver humanitarian aid.
This is all from my side and I am ready to answer questions.
Q: Le Parlement européen aujourd'hui vient de décider de reconnaître le Président par intérim, Mr Juan Guaidó. Les Européens aujourd'hui, à l'issue de cette réunion, décident juste d'un groupe de contact et de donner 90 jours pour organiser des élections, et au terme de ce processus, ils verront ce qu'ils vont faire. Est-ce que c'est cela le reflet de grandes divisions au sein de l'Union européenne? Les Européens sont-ils unis dans leur détermination ou tellement divisés qu'on arrive à des mesures qui sont pratiquement incompréhensibles face à la décision qu'ont pris des députés européens aujourd'hui?
First of all, I want to assure you that there is full unity and I see a couple of Ministers in the room who I think can confirm that. There is full unity on the assessment, first of all, of the objective that the European Union and its Member States have, which is the one of having for the Venezuelans as soon as possible free, democratic presidential elections with international guarantees. And to have a peaceful and democratic outcome of this crisis. I underline “peaceful”, because we know that the history of the country, of the region and of the continent might raise some question marks, some doubts, some risks of the use of force. We have seen violence used already in the country. One of our main objectives on which we are all united is to avoid any violent/military tendency from happening inside the country or from outside of the country.
The objective is completely shared, there is full unity among Member States on this, as well as there is full unity among Member States on the fact, as I said and as was stated already last Saturday in our common statement, that there is full support National Assembly and the recognition that it is the democratic, legitimate body of Venezuela and the institution that has to be protected and preserved in its prerogatives as the Constitution of Venezuela mentions. There is also full unity on our common assessment that the presidential elections did not have democratic legitimacy and this is why, as I said, we had a common position since many months about those presidential elections. This is why our Ambassadors were not attending the inauguration of [Nicolás] Maduro on 10 January. On this there is full unity.
On the issue of recognition: the issue of recognition is a prerogative of Member States. I can give you the example of a country with which we have as the European Union constant meetings and that is not recognised by five Member States. And the list could continue on the fact that it is not a prerogative of the European Union to recognise or not recognise states, not to mention internal institutions of the state. The authority to do so is not in the European Union, it is in the Member States.
We have discussed the next steps that the Member States in their prerogatives might take in the coming days. We will coordinate as much as we can the common position, or a common attitude of Member States, also recognising the vote of the European Parliament, even if Members of the European Parliament know very well that the prerogative of recognition does not lie in the European Union institutions, but in Member States institutions that keep that prerogative for themselves.
And as I said, I believe and we believe that the common declaration we had on Saturday that indicated already then that the European Union will take further actions, including on the issue of recognition of the country's leadership in line with Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, gives Member States a framework of coherence within which single Member States will exercise their national prerogatives.
Q: By creating this contact group for 90 days, when all of the focus was on the unofficial eight-day- deadline of Sunday and Monday, is the EU not effectively giving more space for Maduro to delay calling elections, when you are demanding that he makes that move immediately? How do those two things match up?
The European Union position has been expressed formally last Saturday, indicating the need for urgent presidential elections to be called as soon as possible with the right international guarantees. And I would like to add with the right preparatory process inside the country. I would like to mention in particular one element that we indicate inside the terms of reference of the international contact group that was decided by all Member States, which is the establishment of a balanced composition of the National Electoral Council, for instance.
It is clear that our policy has always been composed by two elements, on the case of Venezuela but also on other crises we faced. On the one side there is a strong and clear pressure. And the strongest and clearest pressure that the European Union could put in place - apart from the political one that we coordinate with our partners around the world - is, obviously, the sanctions that we have in place and the further steps that Member States can take on their national prerogatives.
Together with the pressure, we have always put in place as European Union channels for political processes to grow and accompany, as I said, a peaceful and democratic outcome of this crisis. The pressure without a political space for a democratic and peaceful outcome of this might not find the proper way to happen on the ground. The purpose of the international contact group is clear: as I said, it is enabling Venezuelans to express themselves freely and democratically through the holding of new elections. This is black on white on paper and it is clear. So it is not about mediating. It is not about creating forms of dialogue. We have seen processes before that have been, indeed, used just to buy time. This is not the purpose of the exercise that we are putting in place.
The purpose is to accompany the country in a peaceful and democratic manner towards peaceful, democratic and free elections with the involvement of countries both inside the European Union and in the region that have different positions - for instance on the recognition of the President - that take part or not to different regional groupings exactly to have the maximum possible impact on the different actors, different stakeholders of the political crisis in Venezuela.
I can tell you very clearly that we have been discussing this for months now. We have been accelerating the settingn up of this international contact group in the last couple of weeks exactly because we see even more today the need to put pressure, also through this international contact group. And also to provide especially the countries in the region and the Europeans - who as you know have a lot at stake in the crisis in Venezuela, not least because of the number of European citizens that live in Venezuela with a double citizenship or with only European citizenship and with the ties we have from an economic, cultural and historic point of view with a country - with an instrument to accompany in a credible manner and in a concerted manner the work to push for holding new elections.
I have briefed and exchanged opinions about this international contact group and our work to establish it with not only countries in Latin America, but also with our friends in the United States. I have had a discussion on that with Secretary [of State of the United States, Michael R.] Pompeo, who was thankful for the European position on Venezuela, with the Foreign Minister of Canada, Chrystia Freeland, who is hosting a ministerial meeting of the Lima Group on Monday and with the Secretary-General of the United Nations to whom we might, let us say, relate the possible outcome - if positive, if somehow substantial - of this contact group, should he decide at a certain moment to exercise his good offices.
And there are other countries, particularly in Europe but not part of the European Union, that have signalled their interest to be closely associated to the works of this international contact group and that we will obviously keep informed.
I can add that given past experiences and given the situation on the ground - if you ask my personal assessment on the chances for this exercise to come to a positive outcome - I think we are taking a big risk in the sense that elements are not particularly encouraging. But there is a democratic movement that is very clear today in Venezuela. There is an international movement that is very clear in support for that to happen peacefully and democratically in Venezuela. And we feel the responsibility of trying to make sure, as I said, that these two components - democracy and a peaceful approach to the solution of the crisis - can find a positive outcome.
And I mention the two together, because we believe in Europe that the crisis has to find an outcome both democratically and peacefully.
Q: Est-ce que le timing des 90 jours évoqué pour le groupe de contact veut dire que les élections devraient avoir lieu d'ici 90 jours? Est-ce que c'est le même ultimatum en terme de timing?
Non, et s'il vous plaît, n'utilisez pas le mot "ultimatum", cela n'appartient certainement pas à la culture des Européens et certainement pas à la mienne.
Il n'y a pas d'ultimatum, il y a simplement la décision des pays qui font déjà partie du groupe de contact et de ceux qui – je pense – vont nous rejoindre dans les prochains jours, de nous donner une période de travail limitée dans le temps, pour éviter notamment que le processus puisse être utilisé pour gagner du temps, et pour avoir une évaluation réaliste dans un laps de temps réaliste pour l'organisation des élections, qui peut nous permettre d'évaluer ensemble s'il y a quelque chose en place qui se déroule, ou si le travail du groupe de travail ne démarre pas ou n'aboutit pas à un résultat ou une dynamique sur le terrain, dans ce cas, le groupe de travail terminera son travail.
90 jours sont en effet une limite pour réviser le travail mais je vous le dis sincèrement, si nous voyons que le groupe de travail n'arrive pas à démarrer une dynamique positive, constructive ou utile, nous pouvons décider de terminer les travaux avant, ou si nous voyons que dans les 90 jours, il y a des dynamiques positives et constructives vers l'organisation des élections, nous pouvons décider de continuer le travail même après, car l'accompagnement d'un pays qui sort d'une crise politique, sociale et économique comme celles que le Venezuela connait actuellement, cela va bien au-delà des 90 jours.
And finally, let me say something, because I think that you heard the good news – for me and for many – from my colleagues from Germany, France and the United Kingdom on the establishment of the Special Purpose Vehicle or INSTEX. You will see a formal statement from my side welcoming this step. I also wanted to say it as I am in the press room.
This is a positive step that France, Germany and the United Kingdom as initial shareholders established that I welcome very much and that I believe will be essential for the continued full implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action].
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I167228