HAVANA, Cuba – Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez announced in Havana that the agreement between Cuba and the EU that will normalize relations after 20 years has been reached.
Mogherini and Rodríguez announced the resumption of institutional relations in Havana less than a week before Barack Obama makes history as the first sitting US leader to officially visit Cuba since 1928.
“This is a historic day for our bilateral relations,” Mogherini said in the Cuban capital as she announced the agreement between the two entities entitled “Political Dialogue of Cooperation.”
“Our newfound agreement marks a fresh phase in our relations and it is a historic demonstration of the improving mutual trust and understanding between us,” Mogherini continued.
Rodríguez echoed Mogherini’s words: “This is an unprecedented step that we are taking forward in the history of relations between the Republic of Cuba and the European Union.”
The agreement must now be ratified by two entities, the EU’s 28-member European Council and the Cuban government’s Council of State, but that is all but a formality at this point.
“We are now in the respective processes of internal consultation, but we expect those to be expeditious and we are waiting to have the agreement signed into law very soon,” Rodríguez said.
The agreement is a culmination of meetings between Cuban and EU representatives that 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 having been 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. 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 still went ahead and has now achieved its goal.
The new agreement 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 Common Position maintains that the EU’s stance on Cuba is one that encourages democracy and political pluralism on the island, with an emphasis on human rights. This was the biggest roadblock for the EU to re-establish ties, but apparently much progress was made on this issue (through parallel dialogue) given the newfound agreement.
Cuba, meanwhile, has always rejected 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, is now on its way out in favor of a new agreement, one based upon close dialogue and institutional relations, and one that also paves the way for a close economic partnership marked by a significantly increased trade flow and investment.
The EU is already the largest investor in Cuba and its second largest trading partner after Venezuela. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of EU residents flock to Cuba’s beaches every year, accounting for more than one-third of all visitors to the nation and significantly contributing to the island’s vital tourism sector.
This is due to the fact that, despite the lack of an agreement, several EU nations have signed pacts with Cuba in recent years concerning economic relations, with Spain leading the way despite the fact that its former leader instituted the now-outgoing Common Position.
With the new agreement soon to come into law, however, those economic links will be legitimized and cemented (through the legal framework), and they will only continue to grow while placing the EU at the forefront of the economic opportunities found in Cuba now and in the future.
Seemingly, the warming in relations between Cuba and the EU was spurred by the normalization between Cuba and the United States, or vice-versa. Both entities, however, ramped up their efforts after Cuba engaged in economic-centered negotiations concerning multi-billion dollar projects with China, Brazil, Mexico, Russia and others.