Borrell vehemently denied sending a “secret” mission to Venezuela in the run-up to the December 6 national elections, telling members it comprised two EEAS diplomats who were dispatched to the country to establish contacts with the government, opposition and civil society.
However, EPP member Manfred Weber, in a letter to Borrell, said it was a “clandestine” mission which was aimed at “legitimising” the government of Nicolás Maduro.
Borrell, asked to appear before the Brussels plenary to explain why the mission was sent in September, faced a barrage of criticism, with Spanish EPP member Dolors Montserrat telling him, “You personally sent a semi-clandestine mission and I am extremely concerned that you did not inform the 27 Member States, EU ministers or this Parliament.”
She said Borrell was responsible for spreading a “chain of half-truths and lies” and “anti-democratic contacts.”
She told him, “You must explain the truth because this mission was, in fact, a tool to work with the Maduro regime. This mission was a win-win for Maduro which he was able to use to inflict yet more violence on his people.”
“You personally sent a semi-clandestine mission and I am extremely concerned that you did not inform the 27 Member States, EU ministers or this Parliament” Dolors Montserrat, EPP
Spanish Socialist Javi López was equally scathing and accused Borrell of “fabricated arguments” while Spanish Renew Europe member Jordi Cañas told Borrell, “You were asked to appear today to explain this mission but you have not told us the truth and this is unacceptable. What kind of terrible message does this give?”
“You were not asked by the EU to postpone the elections: it was you who personally decided to do this.”
But support for Borrell came from Spanish Greens deputy Ernest Urtasun who said, “This mission is a standard tool of EU democracy. What else was Borrell and the EU expected to do?”
Borrell told MEPs the mission aimed to set up contacts with all political stakeholders “to see the state of play”, adding, “it has clearly led to some concern as if this was a novelty when it is a perfectly normal diplomatic practice.”
“Last year three similar missions, all led by EU staff, were sent to other places, each with the same aim. Member States were fully informed in writing about this mission. I have been accused of acting in a clandestine way but if I wanted to do that why would I send such letters to all Member States?”
“You were asked to appear today to explain this mission but you have not told us the truth and this is unacceptable. What kind of terrible message does this give?” Jordi Cañas, Renew Europe
“The mission met 70 people from all different sectors, including the opposition and high-ranking members of the Maduro regime. There was a lot of support for the mission from civil society, academia and business.”
“Nothing was done secretly. We made all the meetings public. The EU is seen as the only party which can speak credibly with all stakeholders in the country.”
He added, “we wanted to keep all communication channels open and avoid the chaos we have seen in Venezuela. Yes, we did try to delay the elections but the regime refused. The mission was not there to negotiate with anyone but to pass on the EU’s message and provide support for the public in the current crisis.”
In an angry verbal exchange with some members, during which he was interrupted several times, Borrell, a former president of Parliament, told his critics, “You accuse me of lies and half-truths but that is what you have done today. You have created a scandal. You speak of secrecy but there was nothing clandestine about this mission.”
“Where is the conspiracy? It is ridiculous. What is wrong with having a diplomatic mission? What kind of world are you living in? Are you really worried about the fate of the people?”
“You accuse me of lies and half-truths but that is what you have done today. You have created a scandal. You speak of secrecy but there was nothing clandestine about this mission” Josep Borrell, EU High Representative
“I wanted to see if we could bring the regime and opposition together. We were unsuccessful but we tried to promote political dialogue. I would do the same in Belarus and we will continue to say what we want to say about the Maduro regime. What was I supposed to do?”
Member States have disavowed the Maduro government, saying his 2018 re-election was fraudulent and have instead recognised opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful head of state.
Weber’s letter to Borrell and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the mission “gives the impression that for the EU, the legitimate interlocutor of the EU in Venezuela is the Maduro regime.”
Italian MEP Antonio Tajani, a former president of Parliament, said, “Josep Borrell cannot send a secret mission to a dictator without consultation. Such a mission only legitimises Maduro, not recognised by the EU as Venezuela’s leader, and the elections organised by his regime.”
Paulo Rangel, EPP deputy leader, took aim at the fact that the mission had neither been discussed with nor endorsed by the leaders of the “democratic forces,” including the interim President of the country Juan Guaidó.
“Imagine sending an EU mission to talk to Lukashenko behind the back of the Belarusian opposition. That is what Josep Borrell did in Venezuela,” Rangel said.