Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido‘s claim on the country’s presidency has been endorsed by the the United States, Canada and most of Caracas’ South American neighbours. The European Union, however, is taking a more cautious stance.

While expressing support for popular protests against incumbent Nicolas Maduro, EU leaders did not go so far. Instead, they stressed calls for new elections.

According to media reports, the EU hopes to keep open the door to reasoning with the Maduro regime and to protect thousands of European expatriates.

“Europe supports the restoration of democracy,” France’s President Emmanuel Macron declared on January 24, dubbing Maduro’s May 2018 election “illegitimate”.

“I hail the courage of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who march for their freedom,” he said, without endorsing Guaido’s self-declaration as president.

In turn, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the priority must be to avoid violence breaking out on the street, where opposition protests face pro-Maduro security forces.

“At the moment the situation is critical, and we want to avoid anything that could escalate the situation,” he said.

As reported by the Reuters news agency, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido in a phone call on January 24 that he supported the legitimacy of the Venezuelan parliament and called for free elections, in line with the European Union’s position.

Guaido has declared himself Venezuela’s interim president, with the backing of Washington and parts of Latin America, and the Spanish leader acknowledged Guaido’s “courage with which he has been handling the situation”, a government spokesman said.

Meanwhile, mass demonstrations were held in Venezuela on January 23. Protestors called for democracy and the possibility to freely determine their own destiny.

In response to the situation in Venezuela, the Group of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament issued a statement rejecting all use of violence. They called for free and credible elections as soon as possible to restore the constitutional order in Venezuela. I

“Our political group, just like all the EU institutions, does not recognise the organisation nor the result of the last presidential elections in Venezuela,” said S&D Vice-President Elena Valenciano. “Yet, the restoration of the leadership and authority in the country must be achieved in full respect of the country’s constitution. No quick or imposed solution will be able to resolve this grave situation.”

The statement from the GUE/NGL Group in the European Parliament also called for broad national political dialogue. The group criticised the increased escalation of political interference, economic and financial blockade, diplomatic destabilisation and the continuing threats promoted by the US, the self-denominated Lima Group and the EU against Venezuela. “We call for the lifting of economic and financial sanctions against Venezuela which have strongly contributed to the deterioration of the country’s economy.”