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Europe on collision course with US over Venezuela elections

The vote comes after three particularly chaotic years in the country, where President Nicolas Maduro has managed to stay in power despite the slump in the economy, a contested election result in 2018 and US-backed efforts to remove power through coordinated Western sanctions – which involved the EU.

However, earlier this year the bloc abandoned its recognition of Maduro’s opponent Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president, putting him at odds with the United States which still recognizes Guaidó.

In parts of the United States, this has raised fears that by sending a delegation to the country for the first time since 2006, the EU will legitimize a process that will ultimately be won by Maduro, a man often described as a dictator. . .

Andrés Oppenheimer wrote in the Miami Herald last week that for the past 16 years, “the EU has refused to send election observation missions to Venezuela, mainly because it rightly considered that the elections there were a sham “.

He concludes that on election night, “the EU mission will likely announce that there were no major irregularities, and an ecstatic Maduro will claim he won a clear election. And several months later, when the EU mission releases its final report on the entire electoral process and concludes it was not a fair race, the election will be long forgotten. ”

Diplomatic sources confirmed to CNN that it’s not just a columnist’s fear, but that there are real concerns that Maduro, whatever the EU’s intentions, may do. turn that to legitimize his hold on power.

Why would the EU be willing to do this and risk the wrath of its most important ally?

First, sources in Brussels refute the idea that this will give the elections a de facto EU seal of approval. They say their agreement is based on the fact that Venezuela’s National Electoral Council invited a delegation. Brussels then sent a mission to see if the elections could be monitored “according to the UN guidelines of 2005”, an EU official said, stressing that the bloc had not recognized the elections held in the country Last year. “We are going there not to legitimize the regime, but to see what is happening.”

Second, the official says, “There is no difference in the way we monitor Iraq, Peru, Pakistan or Mali. He is one of the most recognized election observers in the world and if our partners ask us, we will explain our logic. We do not have to justify ourselves to anyone. “

It is certainly true that election watch groups operate frequently and report on polls that are far from free or fair. For example, in 2017, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a well-respected organization, issued a scathing report on the referendum on the independence of the Turkey.

However, critics might argue that the context here is different. Turkey is a NATO ally whose democratic standards have been slipping for years. This was documentation of this decline – which infuriated President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

What is different is Venezuela’s relative isolation from the West. Arguably, even if the EU returns a very critical report, its mere engagement in the process could be used as propaganda by Maduro.

A State Department spokesperson told CNN that the United States “considers free and fair local, national and presidential elections to be essential for Venezuelans to achieve a peaceful and democratic solution to crises. their country is facing. In statements made jointly with the United States on June 25-14, the European Union and Canada made it clear that they share our views … For any further questions on the Election Observation Mission provided by the EU, we refer you to EU officials. “

This kind of tension between Brussels and Washington is to some extent inevitable as the EU attempts to increase its influence as a distinct world power and champion of Western values, rather than as an extension of American influence. .

However, the bloc must remember that anytime it departs from American policy – whether on China, Russia or Venezuela – it will be noticed by the nation’s leadership which still dominates the rest on the World Scene.