HAVANA, Cuba – Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, insisted in Havana that the pact between Cuba and the EU that will establish a ‘roadmap’ to normalization of relations will be ratified by the end of 2015.
Meetings between Cuban and EU representatives have been taking place on a regular basis for several years now after a warming in relations.
The lowest point in recent memory between the two sides occurred in 2003 when Cuba arrested 75 political opponents of the government for sabotage and the EU then invited several dissidents to various European embassies in Havana on those EU countries’ respective national holidays to speak at diplomatic receptions. Cuba responded angrily to the gesture and cut off diplomatic ties with many EU nations.
After the EU changed its position and stopped inviting dissidents to diplomatic functions, Cuba re-established diplomatic ties and the suspension of high level visits to Cuba was lifted by the EU.
By 2008, the EU lifted any remaining economic sanctions on Cuba and by 2010, the last of the 75 political prisoners arrested in 2003 were released, with the vast majority of them released long before their original sentences were completed.
In January of 2013, Holland’s Foreign Minister Franciscus ‘Frans’ Timmermans, urged the European Union to encourage more dialogue with Cuba in the first Dutch Foreign Ministry visit to the island nation since the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The following month, after deliberation and persuading doubtful EU members like the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany, the 28-member bloc’s European Commission ruled in favor of opening formal dialogue with Raúl Castro’s administration in a vote.
The eventual goal was to have a new framework for relations, including political, social and economic dialogue, by the beginning of 2015. The process was delayed (but never suspended) as the European Union worked to solve crises within its borders and Cuba was involved in re-establishing diplomatic links with the United States. Regardless of the short delay, the plan is still going ahead.
Bruno Rodríguez, the Cuban Foreign Minister, appreciated the visit of the EU’s highest external representative. Her “presence gives more importance and a boost” to the talks between the two sides and Rodríguez said he will now reciprocate by visiting Brussels in late April to engage in more dialogue with EU representatives.
“We have a clear feeling of closeness and will to cooperate. Europe can accompany Cuba as it undertakes its planned reforms through investments in agriculture, renewable energy and tourism, among other sectors,” Mogherini said in Havana.
The economic aspect is important as Cuba is looking to reform much of its energy sector. At the moment, the island nation depends on oil for almost all of its energy needs and the EU, with experience in developing alternative energy networks like solar, hydroelectric and wind, among others, can be of great help to Cuba’s reform aims.
The issues the EU still has with Cuba’s detention of radical dissidents and other issues they see as human rights abuses will be discussed through the already established dialogue but if any further issues should arise, they will be solved separately through parallel negotiations with the mediation of Cuban officials and Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union’s Special Representative for Human Rights.
Although the EU has had concrete plans with Cuba in regard to normalizing relations for several years now, perhaps the latest action to place more importance on the issue was spurred by the normalizing of relations between Washington and Havana. In turn, Washington likely hurried to re-establish relations with Havana due to the EU’s ongoing talks with the island.
Both entities, however, ramped up their efforts after Cuba engaged in economic-centered negotiations concerning multi-billion dollar projects with China, Brazil, Russia and others.
Whatever the new agreement is, if and when it is agreed upon, it will replace the current EU policy toward Cuba called the Common Position. This policy was ratified in 1996 and developed by the conservative People’s Party government of José María Aznar, the Prime Minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004.
The policy maintains that the EU’s position on Cuba is one that encourages democracy and political pluralism on the island, with an emphasis on human rights. Until Cuba changes these policies, the EU’s stance is that the bloc will unilaterally stop all institutional dialogue with the country.
Cuba rejects the Common Position as it is unilateral and equates the policy to an interference in Cuban internal affairs. The Cuban government’s stance is an understandable one, given that the Common Policy is also applied by the EU to terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda but not a single other sovereign nation.
The policy, however, would be on its way out if Mogherini is right in predicting a solution by the end of the year.
Rodríguez, the Foreign Minister, has repeatedly announced his nation’s full support for normalizing relations: “Cuba has all the willingness to discuss a political agreement with the European Union on the basis of equal terms and mutual respect, and we welcome the European Union’s proposal for an end to the unilateral policy on Cuba via bilateral negotiations.”
“Unilateral political policies, like those of the US toward Cuba enacted during the long-gone Cold War, do not work and are destined to fail,” the Cuban official insisted.
The US and EU position on Cuba, albeit both are slowly changing their stances, is an outdated one. In October of 2014, for the 23rd consecutive time, the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn the United States’ half-century embargo on Cuba by a vote of 188 to 2, with the only ‘no’ votes coming from the US and its staunch ally Israel.
Along with changing opinions on the Old Continent, the changes in Cuba have had effects on the way the island nation is seen. Since coming to power, Raúl Castro’s administration has removed restrictions against the purchase of certain products previously deemed illegal, gave unused state-owned land to private farmers and farming cooperatives, eased travel restrictions and internet access, significantly reduced state spending, and encouraged many entrepreneurial initiatives.
Politically, Fidel’s younger brother has also placed a limit on presidential terms and said that he would step down after his second term ends in 2018, giving Cuba its first non-Castro leader since the Revolution of 1959.
It would behoove both sides to approve the new framework for diplomacy. The EU is the largest investor in Cuba and its second largest trading partner after Venezuela, while hundreds of thousands of EU residents flock to Cuba’s beaches every year, accounting for more than half of all visitors in the vital tourism sector of the island nation.