Strasbourg, 23 October 2018
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Thank you very much Madame Chair,
We regularly discuss the situation in Venezuela and I can start by saying that we see further deterioration of the situation now and a further polarisation of the political scene. Tensions continue to rise. The social and economic conditions are clearly worsening - quite dramatically - and against this background, over two million Venezuelans have decided to leave the country.
We often refer to a migratory crisis towards Europe, I would invite you to look at these numbers. There are two million Venezuelans fleeing - in Colombia, Brazil, also in Ecuador, Peru and the Caribbean. Among these people, some are European citizens.
Here we have a reverse situation, because as you might know, nearly one million EU nationals have dual citizenship; there are also people of European descent that live in Venezuela, although many of them have already left the country.
Even if an ocean geographically divides us, we Europeans could not stand on the sidelines of this crisis. It concerns us, just because of these numbers of how many EU nations are also Venezuelan nationals; not to mention the social, economic and cultural ties that exist between Europe and Venezuela.
Our response, so far, has been both humanitarian and political. On the humanitarian side, we are currently mobilising €35 million in assistance to Venezuelans both inside and outside the country. We are investing in health assistance, food and water sanitation. We are working to support the socio-economic inclusion of Venezuelans, and to help the local economy of the host communities in the neighbouring countries.
Half of the package of these €35 million is already being implemented, in quite a record time, and the remaining will be made operational by early next year. We are also exploring the possibilities to further increase the European Commission's financial support, beyond this already very significant contribution.
We have welcomed the appointment of Eduardo Stein as Joint Special Representative of the UNHCR [UN Refugees Agency] and the IOM [International Organisation for Migration] for Venezuelan refugees and migrants. We had, with the Foreign Ministers of the 28 Member States, the opportunity to discuss also about the Venezuelan migratory crisis, Monday last week, in Luxembourg, during the Foreign Affairs Council, expressing our support to both [Filippo] Grandi [Director General of the UN Refugees Agency] and [António Manuel de Carvalho Ferreira] Vitorino [Director General of the International Organisation for Migration] for this work that we want to be a joint work.
We stand ready to support any further coordinated action, both at regional and international level, to address more effectively this humanitarian crisis.
But the only possible solution to this crisis is political. Last week, again, I discussed with the Foreign Affairs Council, we discussed what the European Union can do more to prevent a further deterioration of the situation, or help change the course of this negative development.
Ministers from all 28 Member States have confirmed that, first of all, any sustainable political solution to the Venezuelan crisis has to be democratic and peaceful – I think these are the two pillars that guide our action. An external intervention or any use of force would be simply unacceptable to us, and would make things much worse.
Our immediate request to the government of Venezuela is that it takes unilateral confidence-building steps to ease tensions. It should first and foremost restore the full constitutional powers of the National Assembly and respect the immunity of its members; release all political prisoners and take concrete steps to restore political pluralism and to guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
We expect in particular a full, independent and impartial investigation on the circumstances of councillor Albán's death. It is the duty of the State to ensure the safety and physical integrity of all people in its custody.
And finally, we ask the government to allow free, credible and transparent elections in full respect of the Constitution.
On all these points, we have not changed our mind. You have heard them and you have actually said this yourself several times. These requests stay on the table from our side and we do not intend to change our mind on these starting points. Because the people of Venezuela are simply asking for democracy.
This is the first time we impose this kind of measures in Latin American, and you can imagine that we did not take this decision lightly. We took it because of the deteriorating situation, but also as a message to the authorities of Venezuela with which we are keeping an open channel of dialogue – to engage seriously towards a negotiated solution to the current crisis.
Today, the situation has not improved at all – on the contrary. So, we stick to our decision, and the restrictive measures will stay as long as human rights are violated and democratic principles are disregarded. We do not intend to soften our position in the lack of substantive progress on the ground.
At the Foreign Affairs Council last week, we started with the [Foreign Affairs] Ministers a discussion on what else we can do, next to these positions, next to the decision on the sanctions that is staying. What else can we do, as European Union, as Member States, to end the downwards spiral and to help the start of some kind of political process. Because the absence of a political process itself might lead to a further deterioration of the situation.
We will explore, first of all together with Latin American countries, the possibility of establishing a Contact Group – with relevant and interested countries - not only from the region - and international players. We do not think that – at this point in time – a mediation or a dialogue would have any chance to succeed. I want to be very clear on that. It is not an issue about buying time – no way. The conditions for either a dialogue or a mediation are not ripe, are not there.
But an international initiative – a European initiative together with others could – with plenty of question marks - help build the conditions that would eventually lead to relaunching a political process. For the moment, this is just a possibility we are exploring, I do not want to raise expectations. We are simply worried about the absence of a political process and personally, I do not want to be in the situation, in six months, one year from now, to look back and say: could we not have done more on the political side to avoid the situation to deteriorate even further?
Again, we are not raising expectations, not launching any initiative today, but we are simply exploring if there are the conditions to put something in place that could help creating the conditions for something to happen in the future. We should try – I believe – any peaceful option to end the current stalemate and prevent a violent escalation.
Because if the situation does not improve – and we do not see the situation improving – an escalation of violence cannot be excluded – and this would mean even greater suffering for the people of Venezuela. And this is an option we have to exclude and we have to prevent. We do not want to impose any outside, outsourced solution; this has never been the European approach. We believe in democracy; we believe in ownership, we believe in cooperation and we believe in respect.
We believe the future – and also the present – of Venezuela must be written by its people, and by no one else, without any external intervention. But we will do everything we can to help the Venezuelan people take the future and the present of their country back in their hands. I am looking forward to listen to your views. Thank you.
Let me start by saying that, luckily, I have seen among the Member States and in the [Foreign Affairs] Council more unity than in this hemicycle.
Sorry, I am blunt, because I want to start from describing the situation as I have seen it in these last four years. And still, last week, there was no Member State that was asking for reviewing our sanctions policy, and there was no Member State arguing that we should engage in a mediation currently.
I think that we have to start from a point of clarity and truth about this. We can be against something, but if nobody else is proposing this something it is a pure exercise of rhetoric. I think we need to discuss things as they are. Things as they are, are currently - as I described in the beginning and maybe some of you joined the debate after my initial intervention - that we keep our position exactly as it has been in these years, on the need for freeing the political prisoners, the need for elections, the need for having the Constitution fully respected and applied.
We keep our sanctions in place, and as I said, it was quite something, because it was the first time we introduced targeted sanctions in Latin America, which was not a decision taken lightly by our Member States. They were united in that and continue to be united in that respect.
In the meantime, we say two things. I think we can agree on these two things.
One, that the solution has to be peaceful - and I would have liked to hear that a bit more from some of the interventions around the hemicycle, because the idea of having some form of military pressure or intervention is floating around somewhere. I think that, as Europeans, we are fully united behind the fact that, in Venezuela, any sort of military pressure or intervention could be even counterproductive, because we know the nature of President Maduro's attitude. It could be the negative outside effect that could strengthen the fight against the outside.
We are worried, not of having an ideological fight – at least myself – whether we support one kind of ideology or the other. But we are seriously concerned about the situation of a country that has millions of people in a difficult situation, among which one million are European citizens. So we care, we care about finding a solution.
How can this solution be found? The European position – and I think this can be reflected well in large majority of your positions – is first that any solution cannot be but a political, peaceful solution.
Second, it has to be a democratic outcome, involving all Venezuelans. Because, as I said in the beginning, we are not and we will never be in favour of an external imposed solution. It has to be a Venezuelan solution. It has to be involving all Venezuelans.
And this is the difficulty of the "simple exercise" of looking for democracy. I think this is the balanced, united position the European Union has stressed in these weeks.
We will now try to explore if there are the conditions for establishing this contact group. As I said, I would not want to raise expectations, because I think this is extremely complicated as an exercise. But I think it is worth trying and seeing – again, not to initiate or to start a mediation or a dialogue – if there are conditions to establish a contact group, so that this contact group could start working on establishing the conditions to relaunch a political process, which are currently not there.
I want to say this very clearly – even if I should be sitting on the Council side to say this – I have seen no divisions among Member States on this position. I have seen a very clearly united stand behind this effort that we now start to explore.
One last point on the ICC [International Criminal Court] investigation, some of you raised this. Currently, a preliminary examination is being conducted by the Office of the ICC prosecutor, and as you know, the European Union is a strong - probably the strongest supporter - of the ICC role in bringing perpetrators to justice. We now trust the ICC prosecutors' assessment on whether or not the Rome Statute requirements to initiate an investigation have been met in the case of Venezuela. We trust the ICC as an institution to carry out this preliminary examination that is currently being done and then we will take it from there.
I thank you very much.
Link to the closing remarks: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I162424