(CN) – Venezuela's escalating crisis is becoming a source of political division in Europe, exposing sharp differences between those on the left warning of a U.S.-led military intervention and Europe's centrists and conservatives eager to see Nicolas Maduro's socialist government collapse.
The European Union this week called for new elections in Venezuela, but it stopped short of recognizing Juan Guaidó as the interim president. Guaidó, a long-time opponent of Maduro and the leader of the National Assembly, declared himself interim president in January.
The EU was blocked from recognizing Guaidó by an intransigent Italy, according to news reports, citing diplomatic sources. In taking stances in foreign policy, the EU's member states must all agree, and that's consistently proven very difficult for a bloc with 28 member states.
Individually, major European nations – including France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain – backed Guaidó, a position in line with the United States, Australia and Canada. China and Russia, which have invested heavily in Venezuela and are vying for global power against the United States, oppose interference.
Italy, too, is on the side of leaving Venezuela alone. Italy's government is led by a populist anti-establishment left-leaning party, the 5-Star Movement.
Although the party has not explained its position publicly, a window into its thinking was provided by Alessandro Di Battista, a top 5-Star figure.
On Jan. 26, Di Battista was quoted by Italian media as saying he was vehemently opposed to the EU issuing an “ultimatum” to Venezuela, calling such a move a “mega-galactic piece of crap.”
He said it would lead to Maduro being overthrown militarily in similar fashion to Libya's strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Gaddafi's fall led to civil war in Libya, whose history and politics are entwined with Italy's. Many Italians argue Libya's collapse led to a surge in asylum-seekers seeking entry to Europe via Italy's southern shores.
U.S. President Donald Trump and his advisers have said military intervention in Venezuela is an option.
“It is not about defending Maduro. It is a matter of avoiding an escalation of violence,” Di Battista said.
The 5-Stars' position caused new friction with its coalition partner in government, the far-right League party, and with other European countries.
The crisis in Venezuela isn't just causing conflict in Italy.
In Britain, the Labour Party has come out in opposition to intervening in Venezuela. Labour's positions have shifted farther left since Jeremy Corbyn took the party's helm in 2015.
On Wednesday, Emily Thornberry, Labour's shadow foreign secretary, said the EU should not be recognizing Guaidó.
“I do not think you can make demands without knowing what you are going to do next,” she said, according to the Guardian newspaper in Britain. “It’s about not striking a pose, but doing things that are realistic and practical.”
She advocated letting “regional voices” resolve the conflict in Venezuela. “I think it is a question of approaching this with a little more humility,” she said.
She was echoing Corbyn, who said on Feb. 1 in a tweet that “the future of Venezuela is a matter for Venezuelans …We oppose outside interference in Venezuela, whether from the US or anywhere else.”
Labour's non-interventionist approach in Venezuela drew rebuke from Conservatives.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, William Hague, a former Tory leader and foreign secretary, called Corbyn's statements “the hand-wringing language of moral bankruptcy.”
Hague said it was necessary to intervene because Maduro's government is a repressive dictatorship responsible for the oil-rich country's collapse.
He charged that Labour's leaders were “guilty on three counts: of supporting economic insanity, of indifference to intense human suffering, and of a refusal to accept any measures to alleviate it.”