EU mulling 'range of actions' on Venezuela

Opposition members shout slogans against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during a National Assembly special session in Caracas, Venezuela. (Fernando Llano, AP)
Opposition members shout slogans against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during a National Assembly special session in Caracas, Venezuela. (Fernando Llano, AP)

Brussels - The European Union is discussing a "whole range of actions" against Venezuela over its political crisis but is likely to stop short of sanctions, officials and sources said Wednesday.

Spain and the head of the European Parliament have both pressed for sanctions following a controversial election that critics say is a bid by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to stay in power, and the arrest of two opposition leaders.

The United States earlier this week hit Maduro with sanctions, and diplomats from the 28 EU nations were meeting with EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the bloc's course of action.

"Consultations with member states are ongoing to ensure an appropriate and coordinated response by the EU. Obviously the whole range of actions are discussed," said Catherine Ray, Mogherini's spokesperson, when asked if sanctions were on the table.

"But our priority is the urgent relief of the Venezuelan people and de-escalation of the tensions. We promote a political solution to the crisis and we are ready to further support ongoing regional mediation efforts," Ray told a daily briefing.

There was opposition from some EU states to any kind of sanctions, which would scupper them as sanctions must be approved unanimously, diplomatic sources said.

'World sanctions regime'

The 28 EU countries are now working on a common declaration that is expected to be published later Wednesday.

"The declaration is supposed to mention 'other measures'. But no talk so far on sanctions," a European source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The EU has previously warned that it has "grave doubts" about recognising an election for a constituent assembly that would hand Maduro more powers, and condemned the arrest of high-profile opposition figures Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said on Tuesday that he had contacted Mogherini to "kickstart a process to adopt additional restrictive measures" such as travel bans to target those responsible for the crisis in Venezuela.

Madrid was against taking wider economic "sanctions that could affect people" in Venezuela.

European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani has also pushed the bloc to go further, writing on Tuesday to European Council head Donald Tusk and European Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker to ask them to consider sanctions against Maduro and his circle.

British junior foreign minister Alan Duncan appeared to play down the likelihood of EU sanctions.

Duncan said there "may come a point where we will become part of a world sanctions regime, for instance if the United Nations were to impose one then we would."

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