Fourteen of the European Union’s member states stepped forward today and officially recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the provisional president of that country. Other EU nations such as Poland and Sweden have indicated they will also recognize Guaidó, increasing the pressure on Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro to told new presidential elections and bring the current political crisis to an end. The EU move comes after Maduro ignored an EU deadline to call for new elections by this past weekend. Europe wasted no time in joining the United States in its efforts to bring about a leadership change in Caracas.
Even though Europe appears to be relatively unified on the issue, there are a handful of nations straddling the fence. Greece refuses to condemn Nicolas Maduro or his government and instead has called for a “political dialogue” to avoid a civil war in Venezuela. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has long been an admirer of Hugo Chavez, and the political model he created. Italy and Ireland are two EU member nations that also oppose recognizing Guaidó, yet this does not signal support for Maduro and his government. Officials in Rome and Dublin are more concerned with setting a dangerous precedent by recognizing a self-proclaimed leader. Italy’s objections were even enough to block a planned EU statement recognizing Guaidó.
Despite the minor differences between some European nations on the semantics of handling Guaidó, Maduro, and the Venezuelan crisis as a whole, the battle lines have already been clearly drawn along familiar geopolitical, and ideological positions. The West, following the lead of the United States, is pushing for free elections, and a new leader in Caracas. Russia, China, and a handful of smaller nations around the world led by left wing, socialist leaders, or are anti-US in nature, have sided with Maduro. These positions will become more significant now that it seems the crisis is moving into a geopolitical phase now. International pressure could become the opposition’s most powerful weapon in the coming weeks.