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Top EU Court Says Venezuela Can Sue Over Sanctions

The decision overturns a lower court ruling that found Nicolas Maduro’s government didn’t have standing to challenge EU sanctions.

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — Venezuela can bring a legal complaint against 2017 EU economic sanctions after all, the bloc’s top court held on Tuesday. 

The Court of Justice of the European Union found that Venezuela does have standing to challenge the sanctions barring the South American country from purchasing arms from the bloc as well as freezing the assets and restricting travel of more than 50 officials. 

The Luxembourg-based court wrote that “it should be recalled that it is settled case-law that an action for annulment must be available in the case of all measures adopted by the EU institutions, irrespective of their nature or form, provided that they are intended to have legal effects.”

Following contested 2017 regional elections, the EU implemented sanctions against Venezuela, including a ban on the sale of weapons. In 2013, after the death of longtime President Hugo Chavez died, his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, took power, leading to the outbreak of violent protests. In 2017, the country’s supreme court attempted to dissolve the legislature and less than a year later Maduro declared himself the winner of a 2018 election that was widely condemned for being undemocratic.

“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 said in a statement when the sanctions were announced. 

Venezuela filed a complaint with the European General Court, the EU’s lower court, arguing that the sanctions violated its right to do business with the union’s 27 member states. The General Court, however, found in a 2019 ruling that since it isn’t an EU member state, Venezuela had no standing to bring a complaint.

Maduro's government then appealed to the Court of Justice, which reversed the lower court based on the finding that a third-party state qualifies as a “legal person” that can bring complaints before the court. 

“Such a legal person governed by public international law is equally likely as any another person or entity to have its rights or interests adversely affected by an act of the European Union and must therefore be able, in compliance with those conditions, to seek the annulment of that act,” the 17-judge panel wrote.

Tuesday's decision affirms a nonbinding opinion from a court magistrate last year. Advocate General Gerard Hogan found that preventing the country from purchasing certain goods from the EU “directly affects the appellant’s legal rights and interests.” 

The case will now return to the General Court to be argued on the merits. 

According to a United Nations estimate, more than 5.6 people have fled Venezuela since the turmoil began, a loss of nearly 20% of the country’s population. The ongoing economic crisis has left the country unable to mount much of a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Reuters reported Monday that the government has asked private banks to cover the costs of vaccinations, since the government is unable to make international financial transfers as a result of U.S. sanctions. 

Follow Molly Quell on Twitter

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