EU Magistrate Says Venezuela Can Sue Bloc Over Sanctions

An adviser to the EU’s top court said it should overturn a ruling that found Venezuela lacked standing to bring a complaint over sanctions imposed by the union.

A biker wearing a protective face mask rides past a mural depicting the eyes of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela, last summer. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — Venezuela can contest economic sanctions before the European Union’s highest court, a magistrate for the court said Wednesday. 

In a nonbinding opinion for the European Court of Justice, Advocate General Gerard Hogan wrote that the European General Court, the EU’s lower court, erred when it rejected a complaint from the South American country over sanctions issued in 2017.

“The present proceedings should be remitted to the General Court so that it can proceed to adjudicate on all remaining admissibility issues arising in the annulment proceedings brought by the appellant and on the substance of its action,” Hogan wrote.

The Court of Justice follows the legal reasoning of its advisers in about 80% of decisions. 

The EU implemented sanctions against Venezuela following contested 2017 regional elections, banning weapons sales and freezing the assets of people responsible for human rights violations.

“The EU calls upon the government to urgently restore democratic legitimacy, including through free and fair elections, and on the opposition to continue engaging in a united manner towards a negotiated solution to the current tensions, in the interest of the country,” the Foreign Affairs Council wrote in a statement when the measures were announced. 

Venezuela brought its complaint against the EU in February 2018, arguing that the sanctions violated its right to do business with the union’s 27 member states. The EU argued that Venezuela had no standing to bring a complaint before the Court of Justice, set up to adjudicate EU law, since it isn’t an EU member state. In its 2019 ruling, the General Court agreed. 

Venezuela appealed and Hogan found that the lower court was incorrect.

“While the Court has never ruled directly on this point, the existing case-law of the General Court and the Court of Justice on standing would nonetheless all tend to suggest that the appellant is a legal person for the purposes of [EU law],” the magistrate wrote. 

The lower court reached its conclusion on the grounds that the sanctions did not impact Venezuela as a whole, but were instead targeted at specific people in Venezuela. Further, Venezuela did not have any contracts to purchase weapons from any EU countries so any harm was “purely speculative and can only result from future and hypothetical negotiations,” the General Court found.  

But Hogan disagreed, writing: “The contested provisions prevent the appellant from purchasing certain specified goods and services from certain defined EU operators and thus directly affects the appellant’s legal rights and interests.”

The Court of Justice is expected to rule on the case later this year. 

The situation in Venezuela has become increasingly unstable amid a drop in oil prices, lowering revenue the country is dependent on. In 2013, longtime president Hugo Chávez died and his predecessor Nicolás Maduro took power. Violent protests broke out in the country after the supreme court attempted to dissolve the legislature in 2017. 

Maduro declared himself the winner of a 2018 election that was widely condemned for being undemocratic. The United States and others recognized the opposition leader Juan Guaido as the rightful winner. 

The EU response to the crisis has been tepid, though the union did announce earlier this month that it would stop recognizing Guaido as the country’s interim head of state after he lost his position as head of parliament. However, the EU also does not recognize Maduro as the Venezuelan leader.

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