By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union can no longer legally recognise Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate head of state after he lost his position as head of parliament, the bloc's 27 governments said on Wednesday.
Guaido is still seen by the United States and Britain as Venezuela's rightful leader following the disputed 2018 re-election of President Nicolas Maduro, and two EU diplomats stressed the EU still did not recognise Maduro as president.
An EU statement on Wednesday threatened further sanctions against the Maduro government, on top of an arms embargo and sanctions on Venezuelan officials already imposed, to decry what it views as rights violations and the rupture of democracy.
But EU governments referred to Guaido as one of the "representatives of the outgoing National Assembly", in the statement, which denounced a Dec. 6 parliamentary election that many countries say was rigged. The new assembly, now controlled by Maduro supporters, began work on Wednesday.
As Venezuela has sunk into a crisis that has brought mass emigration and hyperinflation, Guaido was the unifying figure leading protests to seek an end to Maduro's rule.
The two EU diplomats said Guaido remained one of the most important pro-democracy figures in Venezuela, where the EU, the United States, Britain and Latin America want to mediate to organise free and fair elections.
However, the envoys said the statement by the 27 EU governments came after agreement in Brussels that Guaido's self-declared role of interim president had no institutional standing now that Maduro had taken control of the National Assembly.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Philippa Fletcher)