The European Union and Cuba in 2017-2018: A Family Portrait

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In 2017 the European Union and Cuba reached the best moment in their common history. After more than a quarter of a century of ups and downs, during which the advantages of the relationship in other areas were lost due to a very high level of politicization, both parties signed in 2016 a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) which entered into force provisionally last November 1st.

This is the first time that the full range of relations is channeled through negotiations, which constitutes a turning point – acknowledged by Federica Mogherini, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – from which to overcome the unilateralism and fragmentation of the previous policy. The negotiation process, as well as its result, situate both actors in a more flexible dynamic of reciprocal understanding and cooperation in common areas, in addition to identifying and developing other new areas.

The Agreement allowed for the derogation of the Common Position of 1996, due basically to legal incompatibilities, but also because of its uselessness as an instrument intended to achieve specific objectives. From any point of view it is more consistent with the foreign policy interests of both players: it provides the European Union real opportunities to have an influence on Cuba, which loses the stigma of having been the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean, and one amongst ten countries in the world, without contractual ties to the Union. Cuba now fully becomes part of its Latin American policy.

The practical decision to obtain an agreement that institutionalized what already existed, leaving the door open to evolution, was shown to be a smart one. Setting the bar at an attainable goal, without attempting to go from none to total, fostered the unexpected broad scope of the agreement, which surpassed the initial expectations, and adds new elements to the already existing ones in different spheres of the bilateral relation, thus encompassing almost every possible area of cooperation. Further, as a joint agreement, it includes the member-states of the European Union as parties to the agreement, in addition to the European Commission.

The Agreement, concluded for an unlimited period of time, is defined as one of political dialogue and cooperation. The political dialogue between the EU and Cuba had fluctuated like the bilateral relationship as a whole, and even though there was a resumption of that dialogue since 2008, its agenda was ad hoc. The PDCA, as a framework agreement, defines the political topics and envisions increased dialogue on the topics of human rights, terrorism, serious international crimes, unilateral coercive measures; the combat against illicit drugs, racial discrimination and xenophobia, as well as sustainable development, and some topics that were not part of the bilateral agenda, such as small arms and light weapons, disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  

The cooperation with the European Commission also resumed in 2008. Since then, more than 80 projects have been funded for a sum exceeding 120 million Euros, and another 26 million are available until 2020. It is worth mentioning, most notably, the major reconstruction of the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, currently the Center for the Interpretation of Cultural Relations between Cuba and Europe, as a tangible, useful and commendable outcome of this cooperation.  Also, the University of Havana is currently a beneficiary of 31 Erasmus+ projects; 4 Horizonte 2020 projects, an expert exchange project and a Jean Monnet Chair. In the area of cooperation, the PDCA includes provisions with respect to governance issues and human rights, justice, public safety and migration; as well as social, environmental, economic and developmental issues, with a special emphasis on integration and regional Caribbean and Latin American cooperation, and the development of joint actions in multilateral forums.

The section on commerce is less ambitious, even though in 2016 the EU accounted for 31.2% of Cuba’s total foreign trade, thus becoming the island’s first trading partner.  Since 2010 its share of Cuba’s trade has been 30 % or more. However, this section codifies the treaty basis –relative to the WTO- on EU-Cuba trade, and includes provisions on trade facilitation and cooperation in areas such as technical barriers to trade and standards, and a clause that provides for the future development of a stronger investment framework.   


Is everything worked out? What are the foreseeable risks?

There is an institutional risk whose first phase was overcome when the European Parliament gave its approval to the PDCA. The adoption of two resolutions on this matter, a legislative one and a non-legislative one, the latter of which includes numerous critical pronouncements on the Cuban reality, indicate that in the EU there are still important actors and sectors that are unwilling, or at least reluctant, to fully normalize EU-Cuba relations. The ratification of the PDCA is still pending in the twenty-eight national parliaments due to its nature as a "mixed agreement." It is a complex and prolonged process, however, it is safeguarded by the comprehensiveness of the provisions of the agreement which are applied on a provisional basis and can be implemented due to the ratification by the European Parliament.

There is also a risk of inaction, highly unlikely but not impossible. Once its provisional application is in place there seem to be no excuses for not negotiating and putting into practice the specific modalities so that they can be executed. The signing of the agreement is not an end in itself, but a means, and to the extent that its implementation is delayed, it would lose importance.

And there is the risk of the PDCA not evolving, and that it becomes the status quo. Parallel to its implementation, the scope of the agreement should be broadened, in order to put the EU-Cuba relations in a status which is not below that of the countries of the region as a whole. The Agreement provides the grounds for doing so, but how that option is going to be used is now up to the EU and its member-states, the Cuban side, and all of the actors involved.

Lastly, there is a risk that cannot be overlooked: a regression, which past history compels us to considered as a possibility, however remote it may appear. The risks of inaction, or lack of evolution, would be forms of regression, although not the only ones, because it means a stagnation within the period in which the relations between the EU and Cuba have progressed further and more rapidly. The worst scenario, however, could be the denunciation or withdrawal from the PDCA.

Nevertheless, everything suggests that this is a new moment that gives greater maneuvering capacity to the parties involved. The greatest challenge facing any of the aforementioned risks is not to waste the moment and maintain the momentum.

The third visit to Cuba of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, took place early in 2018, an amazing record among officials of similar ranking. Her presence in the island at time when Donald Trump’s US Administration has taken firm steps to reverse what has been achieved in US-Cuba relations since 2014, demonstrated the EU’s commitment to the bilateral agreement process and strengthening and expanding the relations with Cuba. It also sets it apart from the more recent tendencies of Washington’s Cuba policy. In this context Mogherini’s statement: “The Cuban people have not and will not be alone in facing those who want to build walls and close doors”[1] is the equivalent of a declaration of independence. If this were not enough, we can add the evidence that both in the speech in San Gerónimo University and during the press conference, she always made reference to the blockade, and not the embargo, which far from being common, is unprecedented in the EU discourse. The reaction to the visit in Miami’s media was what one could expect.

Thus, the perspectives that the paths where the bilateral relations have travelled continue expanding and strengthening will be always in stark contrast to the isolationist policy of the United States. It is an added value that, viewed from the Island, is driven by the dynamics of the transformations that are taking place, noting that the "economic ties with Europe will continue to be a priority for Cuba, in any case, for building an efficient and sustainable socialist economy”.

It is a good snapshot to start creating a family album.


La Habana, January 14,  2018.


[1] Dayron Rodríguez Rosales:"Mogherini: Cuba is not alone facing the blockade". Granma,  January 4, 2018, p. 5

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