The Strategist

Europe turns to Cuba with open arms

07/05/2017 - 14:38

Deeper cooperation between the European Union and Cuba will contribute to the modernization of the Cuban economy and the country’s democratization. This is stated in the draft resolution, which should be adopted today in the European Parliament. Praising Havana for a series of achievements, MPs criticize the US for maintaining the trade embargo and tightening policy in the Cuban direction.

The draft resolution, which was discussed yesterday by the members of the European Parliament. Today, it is expected to be adopted during the voting. The text says that the relations with Cuba are of strategic importance for the EU. Particularly, the document notes: the export of European products to Cuba has doubled in the period from 2009 to 2015. The European Union is now the largest investor and exporter of goods to the republic, as well as its second largest trading partner (after Venezuela). In 2016, the trade volume reached € 2.46 billion.

At the same time, the European parliamentarians believe that the cooperation will reach a fundamentally new level in the near future. Previously, the trade had been regulated by a document adopted by the EU countries back in 1996. However, Elena Valenciano (S&D,ES), the relationship has long reached beyond the then-established framework. As a result, on December 6 last year, almost two years after the start of the talks, the EU and Cuba signed a large-scale treaty, meaning "enhanced political dialogue, improved bilateral cooperation and joint actions in multilateral issues."

As the European Parliament expects, the agreement will contribute to improving the living and social rights of Cuban citizens, as well as political reforms in the country. At the same time, the parliamentarians recommend that the authorities of the EU countries provide all possible assistance to Cuba in economic and political reforms. In the future, the EU is planning to send an official parliamentary delegation to Cuba, as well as to increase the export of goods from Cuba.

One of the prerequisites for this step was the Cuban government’s policy, approved by the European Union. Thus, the European Parliament green-lighted a public debate on the "conceptualization of the economic and social model" and the creation of a "national plan for economic and social development until 2030" held in Cuba in 2016. The draft resolution’s text also mentions Cuba’s participation in the settlement of conflicts in Latin American countries (for example, mediation in the conclusion of a peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the FARC rebels).

In addition, the European Parliament "notes Cuba's efforts to incorporate the United Nations’ basic principles concerning human rights into the national legislation", as well as the fact that the country has signed 11 out of 18 UN conventions in this field. Nevertheless, the draft resolution states that the situation with human rights (for example, arrests of citizens for peaceful political activities) "still causes concern" of the EU. Europe is also dissatisfied with the high cost of Internet services in Cuba: the European Parliament recommends that the Cuban government "take additional measures to expand the uncensored access and the population’s rights to digital information". At the same time, the resolution stipulates that the European Union can suspend last year's agreement if the Cuban side violates human rights obligations.

While praising and simultaneously warning Havana, the Europeans sent a clear signal to Washington. The draft resolution criticizes the US policy towards Cuba. Europe believe that the island’s economic blockade must be stopped, as it hinders normalization of the relations. The draft resolution also condemns Washington’s unilateral measures that "have extraterritorial effects" - for example, sanctions against European enterprises for trade with Cuba. "This limits economic activity in Cuba and continues to have a serious impact on the island’s population," the document’s authors explain.

Differences in the positions of the US and the EU have become more clear after US President Donald Trump announced a tightening of Washington's policy towards Havana in Miami on June 16. Recall that Mr. Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, set a course for normalizing relations with Cuba - embassies were opened in two countries, and many restrictions in the trade and economic sphere were relaxed. Donald Trump also banned all bilateral deals benefiting the government of Cuba, the military, intelligence and security agencies of the country, and also tightened the rules for travel to the island.