EU moves to fill space left by US decision to abandon détente

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has indicated that the EU intends filling the space left by the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the Obama’s policy of détente.

Speaking at a press conference during a January 3-4 visit to Havana, she made clear that while the EU did not see itself in competition with the US, it believed that the new US policy was counterproductive, so would be moving expeditiously to cement European engagement with Cuba.

“We regret that the current US administration has apparently changed policy towards Cuba. We are convinced – as we were one year ago and as we were two years ago, that it is in our European interest; it is in the Cuban interest and it is in the international interest at large, to have relations, to discuss issues of disagreement and to deepen and extend cooperation or partnership on issues that are of mutual interest”, she said.

In an apparent rebuttal of US policy towards Cuba, she told journalists: “…in relation to the US administration and the EU position on Cuba or on other issues of foreign policy, for us: the world is appreciating, in this moment, the value of having the European Union as a solid, reliable, predictable partner. We have differences, but you can always know what to expect from the European Union. We are consistent, we do not have unpredictability in our policies or sudden shifts.”

Referring to the length of time it had taken for a new EU Cuba policy to be agreed, she said: Europe might take time to decide on a new policy, “but once it is decided it’s solid and there is no element of unpredictability”.

Earlier, in an address at the San Geronimo University in Old Havana, Mrs Mogherini, stressed that the EU will continue working to end the US embargo (her text referred to el bloqueo). Europe, she said, had made clear to the US that it is not the solution, that it worsens the quality of life for all Cubans, and is obsolete and illegal. She also criticised the effects of the embargo on Europe.  “We cannot accept unilateral measures that impede our economic and commercial relations with Cuba”, she observed.

EU wants to raise relationship to a new level

In other remarks during her visit, Mrs Mogherini said that the EU’s agreement to establish a political dialogue and cooperation agreement with Cuba (Cuba Briefing December 12, 2016) meant that it was now possible to raise the relationship to a new level, opening opportunities to increase trade, investment, and to promote solutions to global challenges such as immigration and climate change.

She also observed that the EU and Cuba were working to formalise a dialogue on human rights.

“Differences in our respective visions, openness and willingness to dialogue were always present”, she said, but Mrs Mogherini confirmed that “there were no taboos” in the dialogue, which remained respectful and allowed the situation both in Europe and Cuba to be addressed.

Speaking about the coming transition in Cuba, the EU High Representative said that Europe was following this “with great respect and attention”. She said that the EU wished to accompany Cuba’s process of modernisation in all respects, while knowing that the European and Cuban systems were different. Europe, she noted, could provide technical expertise relevant to economic and social modernisation. It was an issue, she said, that had been discussed at length during her visit, especially with Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca.

In her remarks to the media, Mrs Mogherini said that while perception may be different, statistics indicated that the EU and its Member States were together Cuba’s leading economic, commercial, and investment partner. This she suggested meant that Europe had a strong base from which to increase investments, trade and tourism.

In response to media questions, she said that dialogue on relations with the Americas and the role that Cuba plays in the region formed an important part of EU thinking about the hemisphere. Europe, she said, saw its relations with Cuba “in the framework of increased relations with Latin America and the Caribbean” and the EU-CELAC [The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States] relationship, as well as bilaterally in relation to issues such as the Colombian peace process and the situation in Venezuela.

Further meetings and announcements as year goes on

Over the course of her two days in Cuba, Mrs Mogherini made a number of announcements about further expected developments in the EU-Cuba relationship.

  • A new EU cooperation programme is to be signed shortly that will include €18m (US$22m) to support renewable energies, €21m (US$25m) for sustainable agriculture, and €10m (US$12m) to support cultural exchanges.
  • Europe will explore further ways to protect EU companies from the effects of the US embargo.
  • A first joint council meeting with the Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez will take place in Brussels on February 28, to discuss how to advance cooperation. Both the EU and Cuban sides mandated their teams to develop the widest possible agenda so that the meeting could achieve concrete results. Both sides agreed that discussions could cover any subject, without exception.
  • Concrete projects will be unveiled at the February meeting
  • A visit by a delegation from the European Investment Bank at the end of January will explore possibilities for supporting investment.
  • Support for the victims of Hurricane Irma will continue. The EU has so far provided €9m.
  • The EU will participate in the 500th anniversary of the city of Havana in 2019, as well as in an EU book fair, and mount a European film festival.
  • Both sides will explore taking interparliamentary relations beyond friendship groups, so as to include institutional committees that might strengthen political dialogue.

During the visit, which received extensive official Cuban media coverage, Mrs Mogherini met with among others, President Castro, the President of the National Assembly, Esteban Lazo, the Roman Catholic Cardinal, Jaime Ortega, and with the historian of the city of Havana, Eusebio Leal.

This is an extract from the Caribbean Council’s weekly editorially independent publication, Cuba Briefing, which provides in depth information on current economic, political and commercial developments in Cuba and news on events in Europe and the US that affect the region. Business people, academics, and those with a general interest in Cuba find it an invaluable tool for developing and maintaining knowledge and providing an insight into political, economic and commercial events in the region

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