EU eyes warmer Cuba ties with push for new accord

By Robin Emmott

 BRUSSELS (GENERAL HOLDING LLC) – The European Union agreed on Monday to launch negotiations with Cuba to increase trade, investment and dialogue on human rights in its most significant diplomatic shift since Brussels lifted sanctions on the communist island in 2008.

Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

After more than a year of discussions, EU foreign ministers decided to seek better ties with Havana to support the Caribbean nation’s market-oriented reforms and to position European companies for any transition to a more open economy.

“These negotiations will help consolidate our engagement with Cuba,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said after the decision. “I hope Cuba will take up this offer.”

EU negotiators aim to agree the so-called Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement by the end of 2015 and say Cuba has signaled a willingness to sign.

While EU investment in Cuba and progress towards multi-party democracy are not expected to change dramatically in the near future, the pursuit of the accord is symbolic, highlighting the bloc’s warmer ties with Cuba in contrast to the United States, which has maintained an economic embargo on Cuba since 1962.

Although U.S.-Cuba relations have taken a more pragmatic tone recently, with officials from both sides pointing to improvements, Washington has barely budged since easing Cuban travel restrictions in 2011.

Washington also previously exerted pressure on Europe to isolate the Cuban government. But one senior EU official who met U.S. officials last week to brief them on Europe’s plans, said the EU’s overtures were with Washington’s “full understanding”.